Ten years ago, when I was working for one of the big six accounting firms and one of the senior partners was working on a proof of concept for an online “accounting toolbox.” I was selected to help him develop a prototype. We’d decided to use Microsoft’s new ActiveX Documents to develop the prototype. The cool thing about ActiveX Documents was that they were relative easy to code; it was just like using VB form and you code them in the VB or Visual Studio environment. Also, ActiveX Documents weren’t limited by the standard HTML forms.
Now that I look back, ActiveX Documents were really a predecessor to today’s rich internet applications (RIA). It was all new to me at the time, and I thought it was really cool. I created a user interface that was, in my own opinion, much better than the typical web site of that era. Of course, there was a huge downside to ActiveX Documents; they required IE and Windows, and more importantly, ActiveX Documents were COM components. I liked COM, but downloading and installing COM components was always a problem, and was very fickle (too fickle, as turned out, to use for a production application).
At about the same time that I was developing the proof of concept, I went out to San Francisco for a VBITS conference and I heard VB superstar Dan Appleman speak in one of the sessions. He said that he didn’t know where ActiveX Documents where going, it might be a good technology, but he seemed to think it might not go anywhere. I remember being very disappointed in his lack of enthusiasm about the technology. Of course, shortly thereafter, I learned from experience; it was a cool technology, but trying to get it to work consistently even in a relatively homogenous environment proved to be impossible.
I’m glad to see some of the RIA stuff finally taking root; MS Silverlight and Adobe’s Apollo will hopefully take user interfaces to a new level (beyond Ajax) and will hopefully avoid some of the issues that arose with past attempts.