This is a web developer post, which I’m making because we’re going to be retooling some of the edit interfaces shortly to become more user friendly. The programming work hasn’t been done yet, and it’s looking like some of the interface mechanics will be in AJAX. (What is AJAX? Find out here. Basically it eliminates the need for page reloads after every single little action in a web application. Think Google Maps, or the rating widget at the bottom of every Yahoo News story.)
Google, IBM, Yahoo, Red Hat, Oracle and a conglomerate of other companies have announced an AJAX framework standard which will correspondingly have its own standard toolset and libraries. This will, in theory, mean you’ll be able to grab standard widgets and insert them into your own web application, much as (say) Microsoft Sharepoint users can grab a Web Part and stick it into their intranet. At the moment people are generally rolling their own implementations, and this will bring everything together, allowing for compatibility among frameworks. In theory this will also mean fewer bugs and better code, because there will be a much larger programmer base. Importantly, it will be open source, under the Apache and Mozilla licenses.
Presumably the goal – and I’d love to see this happen – is to jointly create a framework powerful enough to build proper desktop-style applications in. At the point where this happens, the computer world changes; it no longer matters if you’re running Linux or Windows or Mac OS. All that will matter is your browser, which will start being the portal to just about everything in your computer. Microsoft actually knew this would happen a long time ago, which is why they bundled Microsoft Internet Explorer with every Windows PC and then effectively stopped developing it for four years. Notice which company is conspicuously absent from the Open AJAX initiative.
This can open up a whole new world of functionality – imagine Meebo-like instant messaging added to a VLE, for example, or a Digg Spy-like interface for new learning objects or weblog posts relating to a particular topic. There are many more interesting applications if you think about it; it doesn’t just enable fancy interface tweaks. I certainly have some big ideas I’ve been playing with for a while, that I hope to talk about sometime in the near future.