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Technology of the Year 2006

  • January 11, 2006
  • By Bradley L. Jones
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In 2005, there were a number of technologies that continued to be important. Several, however, rose to the forefront of the news and to the forefront of what developers were doing. Of these, four technologies were recognized as the most important (and possibly most visible) in 2005. These four technologies were the finalists for the Developer.com Technology of the year recognition. These are AJAX, RSS, SOA, and virtualization.

You might ask the question, where is blah? Of course, "blah" might be blogging, Web services, business intelligence, grid computing, multi-core processing, file sharing, or any of hundreds of other technologies that were present in 2005. Although some of these technologies were mentioned and nominated for the recognition, none of them received the same type of push as the four that made it into the finalist category.

And the Winner Is...

Prior to the start of the voting, it was anyone's guess as to which technology would win as the Technology of the Year. All four of the finalists have made been very visible and very important in 2005 and will continue to be so in 2006. Early projections were on RSS taking the lead spot. Enterprise developers were promoting SOA for the winning recognition. Virtualization is a technology that many developers have come to love as well. It was, however, AJAX that took the top honor of Developer.com Technology of the Year.

AJAX

AJAX is not only tough on grease, but it also can be used for creating smoothly operating Web sites! AJAX, as named by Jesse James Garrett of Adaptive Path, stands for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML. It is an acronym that describes technologies that have been around for many years. Both XML and JavaScript have become commonplace in developing Web pages and Web sites.

In addition to XML and JavaScript, AJAX takes advantage of other technologies. This includes DHTML, which is primarily JavaScript and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Additionally, it takes advantage of requests and responses with HTTP.

AJAX takes all of these technologies and twists them to a new level by providing sites that look and feel like standard applications by having rich interactive content. This can include features such as the display of additional data, the zooming in or out of a picture or map, dragging and dropping of content, and more. This is all done without the normal delays or notable trips back to the server.



Click here for a larger image.

Figure 1: Colr.com - Using AJAX for a color dialog

Sites appear to be more interactive by obtaining information in advance of needing it. Additionally, information can be pulled from the server as a background process before it is needed. The end result is that a site can seem to be more responsive.

In a recent article on Developer.com, Andre Charland lists his top ten reasons why AJAX is here to stay. The best way to understand some of the power of AJAX and to understand why it has caught the attention of Web developers is to look at sites already using it. The following are just a few sites using AJAX functionality:

As you can see, the ability to zoom, drag & drop, and display additional data "on the fly" makes these sites seem much more responsive to what a user would want to experience on a site. As AJAX evolves, it is expected that even more robust applications will be created. This includes applications for functionality such as word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations.

AJAX is not an "all powerful" tool, nor is it the right technology to use for everything. Even so, it is being used to bring Web sites to the next level of interactivity. As such, it is not a surprise to see that it dominated the voting to become the Developer.com Technology of the Year for 2006.

If you'd like to learn more about AJAX, you can check out Jesse James Garrett's article, which includes a Q&A regarding some of the history.

RSS

Although AJAX won the Technology of the year, there were three other finalists that deserve recognition as well. One technology that might be better known than AJAX is RSS.

RSS, in its simplest definition, is a format for syndicating content from the Web. It is actually a standardized usage of XML. This standardization, or specification, allows anyone to pull information from an RSS file because they will be able to know what mark-up has been used.

RSS has its history going back to 1997. That year, Netscape designed RSS 0.90, which supported the scriptingNews format created by David Winer. Over the years, RSS evolved and released in several versions including .91, .92, and in 1993 the most recent release was 2.0. The RSS 2.0 specification was released to the public by Harvard under a Creative Commons license. This license allows you to use a work commercially and non-commercially.

As mentioned, RSS is simply an XML format that can be used to mark up content that is to be shared with others (syndicated). The format requires tags for identifying a channel or site, a link to the channel or site, and a description of the site or channel. A number of other information tidbits can be included to describe the RSS feed including languages, copyright, managing editor information, publication date, category, a time to live, and a rating.

Within the channel, a number of items can be specified. Whereas each item has to have at least a title or description, it may also include a link to the item, an author, a category, comments, a guid, a pubDate, a source, and more.

Each of the items has specific tags and rules for their use as detailed in the specification. The end result, however, is a standardized XML file layout that can be easily used by others. It is the flourishing of RSS aggregators and the extension of programs such as FireFox and Microsoft Internet Explorer that have helped to make even more popular.

One technology that was nominated for the Developer.com product of the year that didn't make it to the finalist list was blogs. While blogs have become popular, it is no surprise that serious blogs now incorporate RSS as well. This allows people to use an RSS aggregator to have the information from the blog come to them rather than having to go to the Web page where the blog resides. Figure 2 shows the FireFox browser with the Sage add-in for viewing RSS feeds. As you can see, the information from any feed is easily formatted and displayed because a single standard is being used.



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Figure 2: Sage RSS Feed add-in for FireFox brings RSS content to you.

Additionally, RSS feeds can be incorporated into applications and Web sites. Ultimately, RSS has provided a new, standardized method for disseminating information. More importantly, it has made it easy for anyone to tap into that information and use it in a variety of creative ways.





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