John Montgomery and Jon Udell are having a discussion about AJAX and rich internet applications. Montgomery is trying to determine what all the fuss over AJAX is about. He played with some toolkits and is unimpressed. Why? He doesn’t see how AJAX can compete with Winforms/Webforms on user experience. John says:
So why do we let ourselves settle?
I think he is confusing user experience for rich widgets. Web-based applications can achieve a high level of user experience and usability without the need for complex widgets. Good web applications are simple, small and well focused to the task at hand. In fact, I always use the web versions of the applications he lists over the desktop versions.
As John points out, the web-style hyperlink approach, with few options and everything laid out in front of the user, is easy to learn and use. To me, this increases user experience, not degrade it. John also points out that content is more plentiful in web-based applications and users like getting content. So much so that he feels users are willing to give up a great UI if they can get great content. Why does a user want a great UI at all? Seems to me that users only really care about content (or data). I think usability experts like Nielsen and Cooper would say a great UI is a UI that allows users to complete tasks without getting in the way. The UI should not be centerstage.
Udell’s posts point out that AJAX systems have a tendency to allow users access to content they want in ways the web-UI did not anticipate. Also seeming to confirm my suspicion that users don’t care much for flashy UI’s, but graviate to applications that make it easy to extract and manipulate content. WebDAV and SOAP are not low-hurdle technologies, XmlHttpRequest seems to be. AJAX is a methodology for enhancing web application functionality, not for replicating desktop applications. People don’t want desktop applications running in the browser, didn’t Java teach us that?