What's New for 2006

The Web's New Generation

Soon you'll enjoy amazing, lightweight Web sites that respond like desktop apps.

Yahoo widgets can bring weather info, stock quotes, and more to your desktop.
Yahoo widgets can bring weather info, stock quotes, and more to your desktop.
For most people, "going online" involves launching a browser and surfing to different Web sites. But recent advances in how Internet data interacts with the desktop have already begun to change our idea of "going online" radically, and the metamorphosis will continue in 2006.

As with any revolutionary technology, the advance has garnered a slew of names. Some call it Web 2.0. Others call it "Open API," alluding to the sharing of key programming code known as the application program interface. And many are calling it Ajax (for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML), after the coding technology that is changing the way browsers interact with Web data. But regardless of the name used, 2006 will see an outpouring of new Web applications that take advantage of it.

You may be familiar with some of them already. The popular site Widgetgallery.com (formerly known as Konfabulator) hosts more than 1000 small, downloadable apps that run on your desktop but are built with JavaScript and XML like many Web pages. Many of them rely on Web-supplied data to function. Some examples: A small dictionary applet that presents search results from leading dictionary and thesaurus sites. Another operates as a constantly updating traffic cam for your area of choice.

Web-based e-mail lends itself nicely to an Ajax approach, too. When a user clicks a link on a standard Web mail interface or on a Web page, the server must send the user a whole new page. Ajax apps can request specific bits of data and update them on the fly, so a Web mail client can pull down new message headers while you're scrolling through a list, for example. Google's Gmail uses Ajax to present threaded conversations and to drive the alerts that pop up on your desktop to show the first couple of lines of a new message. Both Microsoft and Yahoo are beta-testing Ajax-powered Web mail interfaces that bring the responsiveness and features of desktop mail applications to the Web.

Google Maps is another popular variant of the Web 2.0 concept. It relies on Ajax to enable users to move the map seamlessly in any direction by clicking it and dragging it. Google has also gone a step farther, opening the mapping API to the public, allowing programmers to add their own functionality. HousingMaps.com employs that API to overlay Google's mapping service with Craigslist apartment rental listings, giving users a visual idea of where a rental sits in a city.

But don't plan on counting out desktop apps yet. Not everyone can stay connected all the time. According to David Feldman, an analyst with IDC, "That's where the hype over Web applications leaves reality, with what people do with their computers." What's more, he says, "when you move to serious number crunching or graphics rendering, [a Web-based application] won't work." But network-based and desktop programs aren't an either/or proposition. The wealth of connected applications that will appear in 2006 will simply give all of us more options.

Stay Organized With Web 2.0 Tools

Backpack's flexible Ajax interface lets you easily create functional lists.
Backpack's flexible Ajax interface lets you easily create functional lists.
Are you constantly jotting down random ideas or to-do lists? If so, check out BackPack, a tremendous Web site that uses Ajax to make entering and retrieving data seamless and easy. BackPack allows you to jot something down wherever and however you want to in a variety of simple and helpful formats. Say you suddenly remember that in 20 minutes you have to call your broker. Jot a note down in BackPack and add '(+20)'. Based on your preferences, BackPack will send you an e-mail reminder or call your cell phone 20 minutes later.

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