I think there's a war for Ajax developers and I'm not sure the people involved realize it yet. I look at Ajax developers as the pioneers of the web. Like the heroes of the old west they combine a rugged ingenuity with a bit of crude willpower to make a gigantic impact. They've laid the groundwork for how the web works and in the process set a high bar for user experience. Just like the pioneers, I think they're wary of what comes next, so they keep pushing farther west; pushing Ajax to its limits even as the richer web starts to take hold.
So as video and multimedia become integrated more tightly with web applications, what do Ajax developers do? When they want to create animated user interfaces, embrace rich media or add deeper functionality, where do they go? Taken as a whole, Ajax developers have given us some creative, eye-opening solutions to the problems the web has thrown at them. But Ajax can only go so far, and lately it's been hitting its limits. Where do these smart developers go when they want to do things beyond the scope of Ajax? Therein lies the war for Ajax developers and I think there are two main players and some ancillary characters courting the vast, talented pool of Ajax developers.
Technologies like OpenLaszlo and the XUL project provide Ajax developers a familiar way to create rich experiences. OpenLaszlo makes it easy for Ajax developers to build an application, then deploy it in the familiar world of DHTML. But OpenLaszlo also allows Ajax developers to deploy a Flash-based application; a good way to get their feet wet in richer technologies. XUL provides Ajax developers with a brand they trust; Mozilla, and a way to use technologies they know to push the boundaries a bit further. Unfortunately XUL adoption has been limited up to this point
Adobe's strategy is a bit different, but maybe more interesting. They've got their Spry framework, which is billed as Ajax for designer types, and it doesn't seem to have gotten traction amongst the more seasoned Ajax developers. But they've provided a Flex-Ajax bridge as well as an Ajax hook for Flex Data Services; both of which make some of Flash's advanced features available to Ajax developers. But the biggie is Apollo which will allow Ajax developers to take their web application knowledge into the blurring world of the web/desktop. Apollo is going to have a big impact on how software is developed and as it does that, it's offering Ajax developers first class citizenship. They can tie into rich media easily because Apollo supports Flash but they can keep their apps mostly Ajax. In many ways, Apollo offers Ajax developers a way to change web applications again, just like they did with Web 2.0 the first time.
Ajax is a good technology, and it's brought us a long way. I'm not belittling the Ajax world when I talk about them as pioneers; they had a profound impact in how end users and businesses alike think about the web and software. But Ajax is quickly hitting the technology wall as developers become more advanced and start looking for better tools and richer platforms. There are ways to do animation and graphics, but they consist mostly of hacks and counter-intuitive development. Rich media is increasingly important to the web and you just can't do it natively with Ajax. So as those talented, creative developers look to the next generation, richness plays an important role. How they choose to do that will shape the web as dramatically as XMLHTTPRequest did the first time around.