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Technology of the Year 2007

  • January 15, 2007
  • By Bradley L. Jones
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2006 proved to be another interesting year for technology and the world of development. Unlike last year, I believe that some of the finalists for Developer.com's Technology of the Year may surprise you. In 2006, there were big releases related to Java as well as major products from Microsoft. Big players in the development industry were active.

Even with big releases, it was a number of more general and a lot of lesser-known technologies that got the nominations from those visiting Developer.com. When the nominations were reviewed and the results evaluated, the finalists were an interesting cross section of technologies:

  • AJAX
  • JSON (JavaScript Object Notation)
  • Ruby on Rails
  • Ubuntu
  • Virtualization

When the voting started, it should surprise few that it was a landslide victory. For the second year in a row, AJAX took top honors. Although Virtualization put up a battle last year, this year, there was no competing against AJAX.

And the Winner Is: AJAX

AJAX is the technology that nearly everyone is talking about and the technology that has sprouted hundreds of products over the past year or two. AJAX stands for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML as named by Jesse James Garrett of Adaptive Path. AJAX allows web page creators to take advantage of technologies such as XML, JavaScript, DHTML, and CSS in ways that make a web page and web site seem more dynamic with fewer page refreshes. It does this by taking advantage of requests and responses using HTTP.

The results of applying AJAX to a web site are generally a much richer user experience that allows dynamic interactions previously thought to be tied to desktop applications. This includes the ability to display or hide information, to zoom in or out of graphics or pictures, to allow for dragging and dropping of content, and more. But more importantly, it allows for these features without requiring full page refreshes and without necessarily requiring the delays while you wait for a request to go back to the server before happening—this is all done without the normal delays or notable trips back to the server.

When AJAX won last year, we listed a number of sites that were currently using the technology. Those sites, along with many others, continue to use AJAX. Additionally, a number of additional products have since released that help developers incorporate AJAX into their applications. Most major development companies ranging from Sun to Microsoft to IBM have released products that help with AJAX development.

As stated last year, AJAX is not an "all powerful" tool, nor is it the right technology to use for everything. Even so, it has been shown to be a technology that can be used to bring new levels of usability to web applications without the need to incorporate proprietary technologies. Rather, it uses some of the simpler technologies that have been standardized and are readily available.

James Garrett wrote a good article about AJAX. In addition to his article, there have been a number of articles related to AJAX posted to Developer.com. This list will get you started:

The Finalists

AJAX won by a landslide, but there were other technologies that made it to the finals for Technology of the year. These were:

  • Virtualization
  • Ruby on Rails
  • Ubuntu
  • JSON (JavaScript Object Notation)

Virtualization

Virtualization was a finalist last year as well. Although this technology completed quite heavily last year as a finalist, this year AJAX simply dominated. As such, virtualization played as a far away second place finisher.

Virtualization at it simplest is being used to make multiple systems look and operate like a single system as well as being used to make a single system look and operate like multiple systems. With the increasing power of processors along with more multi-processor and multi-core processor systems being put into use, the idea of using virtualization to tap into the power of the processors is making more sense.

I wrote on virtualization when it was a finalist last year. The concepts behind the technology have not changed. If anything, more people are using virtualization and the software supporting it from companies such as VMWare and Microsoft is getting better. In addition to getting better, a lot of the entry-level virtualization software has gotten cheaper or gone free. This has only helped to increase the usage of the technology.

Versions of Windows Vista that recently released even include virtualization software. By using virtualization techniques, Windows Vista is able to ensure that older applications can still run. Additionally, Windows Vista Enterprise and Ultimate Editions includes Virtual PC Express software that lets a user run additional copies of a number of other operating systems within Vista virtually.

Ruby on Rails

To quote Jim White, instructor for Intertech Training, "Wow! In a word, that was my first reaction to developing my first Web application using Ruby on Rails."1

Ruby on Rails (RoR) is a framework for Ruby that is based on the Model-View-Control pattern. Ruby is already hyped as a simpler-to-use language. Combine this with a framework aimed at making web site development with back-end databases as easy as possible and you are sure to catch some attention.

The RoR framework does allow a developer to quickly develop web applications within a Ruby environment. Additionally, RoR runs on a number of different servers such as Apache, Lighttpd, and Mongrel. Additionally, it can work with a variety of databases ranging from MySQL, PostresQL, Oracle, SQL Server, and DB2. The low number of lines of code needed along with the availability on a number of platforms are among many of the reasons RoR is being used.

David Heinemeier Hansson is credited with having created Ruby on Rails. Although version 1.0 was released in December of 2005, according to Wikipedia, the product actually released to the public in July of 2004. Version 1.1 was released in August of 2006. In the short time since its initial release, it has caught a lot of attention.

You can find numerous articles online, including "Ruby on Rails: All Aboard the Fast Train to Web Application Development" from Developer.com as well as Ride the Web Application Express with Ruby on Rails by Jim White on DevX.com. If you read a few of these articles and take some time to play with Ruby on Rails, you are likely to quickly find that the ability to create database-driven web applications, quickly and with just a few lines of code, warrant its having made it as a finalist for a lot of developers.

Ubuntu

Ubuntu may seem like a strange technology to find as a technology of the year; however, it may be less strange when you consider what Ubuntu represents. Simply put, Ubuntu is a complete Linux operating system. Not only that, but it is relatively complete and it is free. It contains most of the key applications and features that the average person would want on a computer. Not only that, but these applications are graphically pleasing and no harder to use than many of the applications used on Microsoft Windows systems. Support exists for standard Intel x86 architecture PCs as well as 64-bit systems, Sun UltraSPARC and T1 systems, PowerPC systems, and OpenPower architectures.

The core operating system for a desktop installation will fit on a single CD. If you want to install the complete Ubuntu system, you are looking to include more than 16,000 pieces of software.

There have been numerous Linux builds. Ubuntu builds on Debian and focuses on making things simple as well as providing regular and predictable releases. This, combined with no cost for the software or for licensing charges, makes this Linux distribution one that can be put on a computer that could be used by anyone.

Ubuntu is a product that shows promise as a no-cost, true alternative to Microsoft Windows. Some distributions of Ubuntu will allow you to boot to a CD, thus making it really easy to review. If you want to see for yourself, you can download it and see.

As a technology, Ubuntu is an evolution of Linux. With Ubuntu, Linux no longer seems to be just the domain of techies and geeks, but is not something you could put on your non-technical friend's machine. That makes it a technology worth noting and thus a part of the reason it made it as a finalist.

JSON

JSON stands for Javascript Object Notation. Referred to positively as a "rounder XML" or not as positively as a "disruptive technology"2, either way it has gotten noticed to the level of becoming a finalist for technology of the year on Developer.com.

JSON is a data interchange format used to represent objects and data structures. Like XML, it is text based and thus readable in is raw format. It is based on JavaScript; however, one of the features that makes JSON interesting is its ability to represent structured data and objects for other languages. This makes JSON a great vehicle for exchanging such structured data even between programs written in different languages. Although all of this can be done using XML, SOAP, or other such formatting standards, JSON presents a format that often can be read easier by developers without some of the overhead of XML, which is more of a markup language rather than a data interchange language.

JSON is catching a lot of attention with AJAX developers. Because JSON is a subset of JavaScript, and because AJAX is JavaScript at its core, the two work perfectly together. JSON can be navigated simply with the standard JavaScript being used by AJAX. This simplifies the processing of the data interchange tremendously. Combine the simplification of the syntax in comparison to XML with the ability to interface easier from AJAX code and you have a technology that again is going to catch the attention of a lot of developers.

JSON is not perfect and has a few issues3. It is currently being hotly debated against existing standards such as XML. It will be interesting to see whether JSON makes next year's Developer.com finalists or if it disappears as being too disruptive a technology. Either way, Sean Kelly's article "Speeding up AJAX with JSON" is a great place to start learning more about taking advantage of JSON now.

In Conclusion

This year's Developer.com Product of the Year 2007 finalists for Technology show the changing landscape in the developer world. Not only is Linux making its mark, but standards are continuing to evolve. Technologies such as XML and JavaScript have become common place; however, as this year's winner and finalists show, technologies and standards have to continue to evolve or face alternatives. Although technologies such as Virtualization and AJAX continue to be important, it will be interesting to see whether the same is true at the end of 2007 when the next set of nominees vie for recognition.

References

  1. Ride the Web Application Express with Ruby on Rails by Jim White on DevX.com
  2. mikechampion's weblog, "The JSON vs XML debate begins in earnest"
  3. Wikopedia: JSON

About the Author

Bradley Jones is an Executive Editor focusing on Software Development topics for Jupitermedia. He has been recognized in the industry as a Microsoft MVP and as a bestselling author. His books include Sams Teach Yourself the C# Language in 21 Days, Sams Teach Yourself C++ in 21 Days, and the upcoming Vista Bible Desktop Edition.

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