One of the problems with so-called web applications is that often they don’t function like real applications would with regard to data transfer. In a nutshell, when you use Outlook and you click an email to view it, that email is opened pretty much instantly, and generally in the same “wrapper” as the link you clicked. That’s because a desktop application has a direct link with the data it is interacting with. With web applications we don’t have that luxury – every time we want to show a new piece of data it means a whole new trip to the web server to pass the request and then send the result to the browser.
But things are changing. Fast. People are finding ways around these problems to provide a more seamless environment for users within web applications. Generally that means a frame-heavy design, as with my projectGenie system which uses inline frames extensively. However that’s not fantastic for accessibility. So enter XMLHttpRequest, the latest technology to when developers appetites.
There’s been much discussion over Googles new email service, GMail, which is partly frame- and partly XMLHttpRequest-based. It seems they have got it right … and wrong. I know we’re in early days with this type of technology so expect to see some exciting things happening in this area over the next few months. I’m certainly going to be messing about with it; interestingly enough I developed a system last summer for a client that had a similar but unfortunately (and to my shame) IE-only system for fetching remote data. This XML thing seems to be affecting the web-world more and more.