Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Windows Live Writer blog authoring client is in beta 2

The announcement is here. My favorite blogging tool has had a big update - and it's still "beta". I especially appreciate the Sharepoint 2007 support and the "paste special" options. No mention of Firefox support, unsurprisingly. IE only, Windows only, etc.

Alas, the Sharepoint integration suggests Microsoft won't kill this product. Live Writer will kill every other Windows blog authoring tool on the market, I suspect it's already finished off BlogJet. There's nothing as good on OS X; that's particularly disturbing.

Update: A local tech column reveals WLW has Minnesota roots. The chief architect "J.J. Allaire, is a Macalester College graduate and a former Minnesota tech entrepreneur". I live just south of Macalester ...

Update 6/2/07: I thought I used to be able to view and act on prior blogger posts using WLW. The update information claims I can edit in the blog and in WLW and WLW will manage versioning. Neither of these are working for me today.

Update 6/15/07: Duh. You can download the lasts 500 posts easily from any blog, and then, like this one, edit it in WLW. Just use the File Open menu. I had to be told this by one of the product architects after asking for this "feature" on his blog. In retrospect this is how the prior version worked. Just another sign of dementia. After weeks of regular use the only complaint I have is that it takes a while startup on first use on my system. This is one beautiful product! There's nothing like it in the OS X world, Microsoft is trouncing Apple here.

Update 7/25/07: There's a Firefox extension for Live Writer. It didn't work when I tried it last December, but it's been working perfectly for the past month.

UI Design: start with your grid

I built quite a few user interfaces around HTML table tags in the old, old days. I actually like HTML tables -- they were very clever about self-arrangement if you thought about the problem correctly.

So I was receptive to this CH article: Coding Horror: Let's Build a Grid. It's a great brief introduction to thinking about grid layout in an UI. Lots of graphics and valuable links.

Foleo: Hawkins peculiar extension to the mobile phone

Hawkins designed the original (since debased) PalmPilot as an extension to the PC rather than a Newtonish replacement for a PC, now he's imaging the Linux-based Foleo as an extension to a phone (emphases mine):

Hands-On with the Palm Foleo: More Cool Features - News and Analysis by PC Magazine

... To respond, you need to be near a Wi-Fi spot or use the smart phone as a modem via its Bluetooth connection, which is why Hawkins calls Foleo a mobile companion and emphasizes the role of the smart phone in this type of digital lifestyle.

... It weighs about 2.4 pounds but feels much lighter, and even with its small battery it can deliver five full hours (even while using Wi-Fi the entire time). The large screen supports 1024-by-600 or 1024-by-768 VGA resolution. Navigation is done through a TrackPoint nub in the keyboard and it has a roller wheel below the keyboard to provide fast and easy scrolling. Foleo's price at launch will be $499 and it should be on the market by mid-summer.

... Foleo would give them a light, lower-cost option that could make it easy to hit the road without a laptop. But, whether planned or not, Hawkins may have actually hit on a more powerful mobile-computing idea. Since this is a small, lightweight Linux computer, it could eventually become a new stand-alone portable-computing platform that the Linux or open-source crowd embraces...

I don't get it. You can't put it in your pocket and it weighs and costs about as much as an XP laptop, but it doesn't replace a laptop. I assume it uses Flash instead of a hard drive. It sports an OS that corporate IT types will never accept (i.e. not Microsoft). It reminds me of the legendary Tandy 100 (I think that was the number -- the original road warrior palmtop), the numerous failed WinCE palmtops, the very shortlived Newton portable, the never-released PenPoint device ...

I just don't get it. A computing/email/browser extension for something like the hideous Motorola RAZR makes sense, but this isn't it. Either Hawkins has lost it or there's another part of the puzzle we don't know about ...

Update 6/2/07: Stross says there's another part of the puzzle. He claims it's a covert web 2.0 network computer device, Larry Ellison's old dream made real. I hate to think Hawkins has lost it, so I hope Stross is right. I still can't see it working within Palm's life expectancy however.

Update 6/4/07: Still trying to figure out how the Foleo makes sense. It makes very little sense by itself. What, however, if the Foleo enabled Palm to produce something like the iPhone?
via Brighthand

... Since that announcement, Palm's Jeff Hawkins told CNET that because the Foleo gives smartphone users the option of full-sized keyboard, then it might no longer be necessary for the Treo to have its own smaller one.

I don't want to reveal too much. But I can now think through the problem differently. I can think through tradeoffs. Well, if I have something with a bigger screen and a keyboard -- whether it looks like this (Foleo) or something else -- where I can view and manipulate data, does it change how I design this guy (pointing to Treo)? Yes.

Hawkins also suggested that Treo with larger screens or smaller form factors might also be possible.

Now it sounds like a multimedia Linux Palm/phone with an external Linux screen/keyboard option. The first part of the equation sounds a lot like an iPhone, but Apple hasn't yet announced its plans for an external screen/keyboard. This is something I used to ask about eons ago (on usenet actually); it makes sense to me.

Monday, May 28, 2007

MacLinkPlus Deluxe 16: a handy but costly tool for old-timers

The big news for the venerable $83 MacLink Plus 16 file format translator is read-only support for Office 2007 documents. There's still no support for OpenOffice/StarOffice open file formats, which is disappointing. It's also still a Rosetta application, running in emulation on Intel Macs. That's not too surprising considering the age of the code-base; version 6 came out in 1991 and I first started using it @ 1986. Looking at the release dates it seems to have been on hiatus since 2004, that suggests it was brought back from the dead recently.

There's no way to download a trial version. That's particularly worrisome given the age of the codebase -- does it really run safely on new machines? There's also no support for presentation software, such as PowerPoint - a viewer would be much appreciated! Symantec MORE 3.1 is not supported (Brad's site still has his 1999 MORE2XML converter and this dated page describes other options.)

So, is there any reason to be interested? Microsoft, for example, supplies free Office 2007 converters and I think NeoOffice and the soon-to-be native OpenOffice will open those documents. Heck, I expect the new version of my favored Nisus Writer will do it as well, not to mention a future update to Google Docs. Why spend $83?!

The only good reason can be support for very old file formats. MacWrite, WordPerfect, etc (but not, for example, Volkswriter and all those long forgotten apps of the early PC era). If you're an old-timer converting to the Mac this application probably makes sense. I'd be tempted if they offered a demo version I could hammer on for a month or so. I don't trust DataViz quite enough to buy a non-universal app without a trial ...

Apple Mail plug-in roundup

Apple Mail plug-in roundup - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) is a handy reference. I don't use any at this time, but most of my mail is still in an ancient Eudora archive ...

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Using SymbolicLinker Symlinks to enable SMB share of an iMac OS X attached external drive

OS X Aliases are not useable by SMB clients (Windows machines). They appears as an unrecognized file type. BSD Symlinks, which you can create with SymbolicLinker, on the other hand, are visible to SMB clients. That's useful by itself, but that's only part of the trick I just learned.

I moved the 9 GBs of our image server (slideshow for several machines) JPEGs from my iMac to an external drive to reduce backup of redundant data (the images live in iPhoto Libraries as well) and to provide a bit of redundancy (images live on a separate drive as well as multiple other backups). That was fine for the iMac, but the SMB clients couldn't see them. Default SMB shares only work for the user directory.

Symlinks to the rescue! I used SymbolicLinker to create a symlink to the external drive folder (drive is set to ignore permissions) and put that symlink in my iMac user directory. When I access the symlink from the SMB machine it nicely resolves. The Symlink works below the level of OS X at the BSD level, so it brings BSD Unix behaviors to the file sharing process. That's what I wanted.

Slick indeed.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Scanning negatives: a workflow

Writing for O'Reilly Micah Walter describes a film scanning workflow. He's using Aperture, so he runs into Aperture's ridiculous limitation on editing timestamp metadata. Still, it's a good overview.

I'm surprised that no scanner vendor has really thought much about how to make this process more efficient.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Silverlight: WMV for OS X Intel

MS is porting a media centric portion of the .NET framework to OS X. This is Microsoft's Flash-killer. Nothing for Linux, but a Mac client is promised. Alas, the next version will be Intel only, no PPC support.

The lack of PPC support is revealing. This is a project to kill QuickTime/Windows and Flash. Once that is done Microsoft will abandon the Mac.

Google spreadsheets - keeping portions private

This is a handy Google Spreadsheet feature. You can now share just one worksheet in a files. So if you're using Google Spreadsheet for your baseball team you can share the page that has positions, but not the page with phone numbers and email addresses.

Now if only I could figure out how to use the Lookup function to reference a range on a different worksheet ....

Thursday, May 24, 2007

OS X annoyances: user switching and the iPod

Apple does some things well, but it has its share of persistent defects and annoyances.

A search of Apple's kb on "user switching" iPod iTunes doesn't find any articles as of 5/07, but anyone who's switched users (accounts) on a machine with a connected iPod knows bad things can happen. The iPod is bound to a user account, not to a machine. When a new user takes over, the connected devices is passed to the new user -- and the OS offers to fix the corrupted device.


This is a non-trivial problem to fully solve, but Apple could have done a lot to mitigate it. The OS should suggest dismounting connected iPods on logout or switch, and iTunes should be smarter about how it responds to a connected iPod post switch. Apple hasn't fixed this because only a small minority of their customers have multiple users on a single machine. In other words, they don't have enough family customers.


Update 9/9/08: iPhone/iTouch 2.0 finally fixed this problem! They are fast-user switching safe on OS X.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Monday, May 21, 2007

JavaScript: a modern update

Coding Horror reviews JavaScript. The links are particularly interesting for up-to-date sources. CH is somewhat Microsoft friendly, so I'm surprised they missed the chance to point out that Microsoft (gulp) made two very large contributions to AJAX. They established the asynchronous XML data exchange and they forced JavaScript into the standards world.

It's one of the great ironies of computing history that Microsoft's actions, which were in part efforts to torpedo Netscape, instead enabled Gmail.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Google on the move: Flash slideshows and way better book search

The shredding and digitization of a 2025 UCSD library was one of the central events in Vinge's recent novel, Rainbows End. In the book Vinge refers to Google's digitization efforts, and today the Memex company ("all knowledge all connected") has another big book announcement.

Note especially that Google Book Search is now integrated with local library services. Wow, what a slick way to mollify librarians ... (I'm now subscribing to Google's book search blog.)

Also, Flash slideshows -- which I'll certainly be playing with ...
Official Google Blog

... Now when you search you'll get both digitized book results as well as records for millions of other books that still just exist in the analog world.

When you view these new added [jf: analog] book records, you can often read reviews, a summary, or see what other people had to say about the book around the web.... we offer links to buy the book or find it in a library near you.

To find out more, check out our post on Inside Google Book Search.
and on another Google front today
... You can use our free photo sharing service, Picasa Web Albums, to create nifty portable Flash slideshows that you can easily embed in any blog or web page.
I tried the book search on my son's favorite book "So Others May Live", but our local libraries are not onboard yet. I'll have to see if I can encourage them to participate.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

How to move a domain name

Moving a domain name from Network Solutions to the OpenSRS service used by my service provider (Lunarpages) was surprisingly complex. For the sake of anyone having to do this, these are the key steps:
  1. Go to Network Solutions and login in to my account there.
  2. Find the domain name, click on it, and find the control that locks the domain. Unlock it.
  3. Now there's another obscure link on the same page that, confusingly, says "lock" or get "transfer code". Click on it and request the code. It's emailed out.
  4. Now to to Lunarpages and fill out their form. They needed all kinds of things, including my credit card info (for verification - yes, it's stupid), domain information, copy of domain record, password for my cpanel access, etc.
  5. Now it should hopefully transfer ...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Google search views: map and timeline

Google has opened their Experimental Search to the public. The cool ones are timeline and map, and you can use them for any Google search (they work best for people, organizations, places):
timeline: use the search term "view:timeline"
map: use the search term "view:map"
Try these:
"dark matter" view:map
"bill clinton" view:timeline
The standard view is "list view" but view:list doesn't work. I tried some other views but didn't find any easter eggs ...

Google redoes their search: Integrated search

The announcement suggests we try the new improved steve jobs search. I took more notice of the the new top menus associated with personalized search. They produce an odd fusion between search and Google services associated with my Gmail username. I'm not sure I see the point, but I'll keep playing with it.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Disable the 'delete go back' booby trap in Firefox - Block the 'Delete goes back' action in Firefox.

It's an OS X hint, but of course it works everywhere. I just disabled it on XP. It's a booby-trap, not a feature.

Best Finder tip ever ...

In column view names are often truncated. There's a fix
Mac 101: Viewing long file names - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

...At the bottom of the column, you'll see two short, vertical "pipes" (pictured above). Double click the pipes, and the window will instantly expand to accommodate the longest file name in the window...
Excellent, but in comments it gets better: "if you option+double-click it will expand all available columns!". Now I'll switch to a very narrow default column view ...

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Spanning Sync: the uninstall

Spanning sync had worked pretty well in my limited testing, but I couldn't solve the rest of my gCal sync challenge. Without the whole solution Spanning Sync just didn't offer enough.

Time to uninstall. But wait -- how to uninstall? Uninstalling the very best OS X apps is a drag-and-drop operation, but Spanning Sync includes a PrefPane. I started looking for uninstall directions.

At first things looked bad. The Spanning Sync FAQ doesn't mention uninstalling. One blog post suggested the process is pretty ugly. A search on the Spanning Sync site for "uninstall" returned four irrelevant hits.

I downloaded 1.04 again, and that's where I found an uninstaller. It seems to have worked. So they have one, even if they don't document it.

OS X really ought to have an uninstaller, even if most apps can be uninstalled by deleting them. (Though apps typically leave support data scattered around, you can use spotlight to find them. In the case of an app like Spanning Sync, you need to switch to each user's account and run a search if you want a full cleanup.)

Update 9/4/08: The iPhone made me a Spanning Sync customer after all. Meanwhile, a year or so after I posted this, Spanning Sync finally added a note to their FAQ about uninstalling. I'm glad they relented, but why did that take a year?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Beginning of the end for the dSLR?

The Canon PowerShot S5 IS has very impressive specifications. We'll see how well that thumbnail sized sensor does at higher ASA ratings, but this feels like the beginning of the end for the dSLR. Many pros will use this as a backup camera, and many prosumers who might have bought a dSLR will choose an S5 instead. Current prosumer dSLR owners will hold off on major lens purchases, anticipating a possible future switch to an S6, S7, etc.

The dSLR has always been, very obviously, a transitional technology. Mechanical prism? Sensor dust? Ummm, no. The only question was when. Now I'm thinking dSLR sales will start to decline by late 2008.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Cmd-Opt Drop: force open file

Finder Fu: Force an Application to open your Document - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW):

...By holding Command Option while dragging, you tell OS X applications to open files regardless of whether they 'support' that file type...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

AOL Pictures for iPhoto?!

When did AOL suddenly get interesting? I just registered for AOL's xdrive, and I saw a link to their xdrive photo service. There I read:
AOL Pictures - Create Album:

... Free, unlimited storage of your photos in original resolution.

... Download the AOL Pictures uploader and management tool for Mac. It also allows you to upload directly from iPhoto ...
I use Google albums because of the elegant iPhoto integration, and I've used SmugMug for years. Neither are free, I've used half by Picasa web album (google) quota, and SmugMug is not serious about OS X support.

So this is interesting, especially because of the upload speed I just saw with xdrive. Uploads to SmugMug is very slow, and Picasa Web Album is no speed demon either.

It would be hilarious if I returned to using AOL. I used them back when they were Mac only, before their was a publicly accessible net. I gave up on them in the 80s ...

Update: download the application here. It looks kind of crude and the install is a bit odd, but it respected admin rights and it uses the keychain. Drag the app to your Application folders. Then launch it, it will ask about installing the iPhoto plugin. It does a proper install with privilege request. There's even an iPhoto plug-in uninstaller built into the desktop AOL Pictures app, and the app is easy to remove. It doesn't work with all AOL/AIM names but it worked with mine, I suspect older AIM uses might need a full AOL account. The upload was smooth and quick.

Alas, that was the end of the good news. The iPhoto plugin doesn't transfer metadata. No title, comments, keywords, etc. Oh well, I'll uninstall but keep this in mind. Maybe they'll fix it later.

PS. iPhoto wasn't built to handle more than 2-3 plugins. There's no room to display all the names of the plugins!

Xdrive by AOL - I'm using it

I've been using Google Page Creator to move files back and forth, but it's kludgy and uploads are excruciatingly slow. I looked around a bit and found AOL's
Xdrive is now offering 5GB for free. It's PC centric, but I tried the browser applet with Camino and it was pretty efficient. Not quite drag and drop or webdav, but good enough.

I had an AOL screen name (my AOL username from 18 years ago is unavailable, AOL does not recyle screen names and there's no way to reclaim them) so I just used that. When I signed in I got a "service unavailable" message, but I just clicked for a while and eventually it let me in.

Upload was incredibly fast using their fancy uploader. I've never uploaded anything to the web that went so quickly.

Worth a try.

Microsoft's free "hobbyist" development tools

I'm not an XP hobbyist so I'd never had of Microsoft's free development tool suite. I came across them only because I was evaluating SQL Express 2005 for a small project. I knew about SE (first released 2005, doesn't run on Vista so unclear future), but I gradually realized Microsoft was packaging it as part of a "hobbyist" suite. A free hobbyist suite.

Visual Studio Express includes "hobbyist" editions of their web development environment, a robotics development toolkit, a game development suite, SQL Server 2005 (of course) and "hobbyist" editions of VB, VC#, VC++, VJ#. Not to mention a learning center.

Did I mention the free part?

The oddest thing, for me, is that none of this is new. These were all released at the end of 2005 as an experiment, but Microsoft made it unlimited in 2006. VS Express has a product manager with an active blog and it seems to have a future.

I suppose I need to get out more.

This fills an odd gap in the world of software development. In the 90s Borland (later Symantec) sold a wide range of programming tools accessible to the hobbyist or student. Many were used for small software products inside corporations. All of these tools are gone now, replaced by high-end, very expensive and very complex tools that are aimed at the professional market.

I suppose I should express my gratitude to Microsoft for this seeming act of enlightened generosity, but that would make my keyboard explode ...

PS. OS X development tools are free for everyone, and they're pretty accessible. No free database platform though ...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Zimbra Calendar and sync

I ran into a brick wall with my integrated family calendar project. I probably have to wait and see if Google implements Outlook synchronization, but I see that Zimbra Calendar has an Outlook Connector. This blog has more discussions, I'll try following it for a while.

I liked this claim:
... Zimbra, the enterprise, open-source-based Exchange competitor that runs e-mail services on top of Mac OS X and a variety of Linux flavors, already with over-the-air (OTA) sync to all popular PDAs, and quality desktop connectors to sync iCal, AddressBook, Entourage and Outlook, has now released the very early version of their own Desktop Client.
So if I were to run Zimbra on one of my ISPs ....

Update: Ouch. The sync stuff requires the very expensive non-open source solution. Ok, forget that ...

Monday, May 07, 2007

Using the OS X Dictionary and Thesaurus

The purest of the pure OS X apps support a full suite of OS X services, including Apple's Dictionary and Thesaurus. This includes Nisus Writer Express and Safari,
but not, surprisingly, Camino [see update re: camino] and certainly not Firefox. A TUAW comment suggests changing the kb shortuct:
...The built in dictionary is a nice app that is often useful. With most of Apple's apps you can hover over any word and press Command ^ D to get the definiton instantly.

This, however, is an odd key combination and the info goes away as soon as you release the keys.

If you set it up with a toggle key, like F12, the mini-dictioanry will stay put until you hit the toggle key again.

You can also now move the mouse to any word(s) you wish for instant access to multiple definitions...
I use opt-F12, because F12 is the default for widgets and one day I may find one I really like. This nicely improves this feature. The dialog box has a drop down icon that lets you switch to Thesaurus mode, and when the app is up you can use preferences to change the thesaurus/dictionary priority.

Update 5/8/07: Why it doesn't work in Camino

I asked Camino's developers about this. It's not enough for an application to be Cocoa, to benefit from the dictionary and integrated spell-checking the application also has to make use of OS X text rendering controls. That's not feasible for Gecko. They are looking at enabling dictionary access through other means, but there's no version for that yet.

gSyncit and SyncMyCal: not compatible with Lookout for Outlook

I'd tried SyncMyCal at home and work for gCal synchronization with Outlook, but it crashed Outlook.

I then tried gSyncIt. This time it installed, but Lookout reported that "another Outlook Plugin has installed an unofficial version of the Outlook libraries which breaks Lookout".

Sigh. Lookout may have been euthenized by Microsoft but I absolutely depend on it. I've never seen anything else half as good, including Microsoft's "replacement" windows desktop search.

I'll uninstall gSyncIt and try reinstalling Lookout. The gSyncIt install was suspiciously amateurish anyway (an installer named setup.exe?!), and I wonder if it really did install a hacked version of the Outlook libraries. Not to mention the lack of documentation.

One plus to this, I'm now reasonably sure it was a Lookout/SyncMyCal clash that crashed Outlook at work.

I'll have to wait and see what else comes up. Google's help file more or less promises a sync solution from them. I probably need to give up on Lookout (it's not compatible with 2007 anyway), but I'm not in any hurry to do so. I'd be in more of a hurry if I had more confidence that there was a great Outlook/gCal sync solution available.

Enabling Built-in Spell Check: feature or bug?

OS 10.4 has a built-in spell checker for Cocoa app text fields: Mac 101: Enabling Built-in Spell Check - (TUAW).

There's no UI for enabling or disabling it other than to bring up a context menu when a cocoa app is in focus. That's so weird I'm not sure if it's a feature or a bug.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Virtual Appliances: what the?!

This one snuck up on me. Parallels, my OS X virtualization layer, runs Virtual Appliances - whatever the heck they are.

Near as I can tell a VA is a self-contained OS/application combination that works directly with the Parallels environment. So they don't need a host OS, instead the functions of a classic operating systm are divided between a layer within the VA and the Parallels environment.

This seems a profligate use of resources (each VA must repicate a lot of OS functionality), but memory is relatively plentiful and they probably use a slim version of linux.

So you can run a Linux app on OS X without having to create a Linux environment, and, in theory, each VA is a self-contained world.

I can't think of a use yet, but I'll keep watching ...

Update 5/7/07: I've been thinking more about this. It's an interesting variation on the theme of "routing around" the immovable Monopoly. I've thought of a few applications; so far they're all either security related (robust encrypted and portable environment) or are in some way covert (breaking DRM, etc). Interesting.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Chris puts Dawn Chorus on my RAZR

My loathing for my MOTOROLA RAZR V3M dropped on iota today thanks to this comment from Chris:
Blogger: Gordon's Tech - Post a Comment

To use an .mp3 as a ring tone just drop your .mp3 into the audio folder via bluetooth and it should show up in the available ringtone list...
I used the little-known iTunes export function to convert my Dawn Chorus AAC file to an 770K MP3 (over large, but it works), mounted the RAZR using the OS X Bluetooth browser and dropped the file into /audio/.

Now my phone rings as a bird chorus. It's definitely audible, but pretty tolerable and reasonably distinctive.

Thanks Chris!

Now I'm thinking I might take Eric's advice...
... I actually love the Razr for how easily modifiable it is, compared to most cell phones. Head on over to if you have some spare time. The guides there were meant for the Verizon Razr, but a lot of them will work for the Sprint V3m. If it doubt, ask in the forums. One of us will answer you!
We're cutting way back on expenditures, so if I end up holding off an iPhone purchase a hacked RAZR will ease my daily suffering ...

Update 5/4/07: Patrick, writing in comments, pointed to a post that gives a more detailed tutorial and shows how iTunes can create a 30 second segment. Very nice. When I followed the 'Water only Dries' advice I ended up with a 120KB file instead of the 770KB file. The tutorial even includes screen shots showing how to convert the original to MP3.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A hex editor for OS X: 0xED

TUAW points to the free 0xED Cocoa Hex editor. The last hex editor I remember using was a DOS tool that was part of either Norton Utilities or a product called something like PCTool. I think Norton Commander might have had one built-in too.

Nice to know there's one for OS X ...

A very readable discussion of AJAX frameworks

Modern web development ("web 2.0") is about creating applications like Gmail that combine the performance of a traditional application with the advantages of distributed code and server-side data storage. This is the kind of product we were trying to create in the 1990s, when we were beat up by the death throes of client-side Java. Those were dark days, but XMLHttpRequest [1] and a slightly more stable version of JavaScript [2] have enabled 21st century vendors to produce some very interest web apps. The next step was to create collections of functional code fragments (Frameworks) to support building new products; these are called AJAX Frameworks.

Dr. Dobb's has a very nice summary of modern AJAX frameworks that can be read by anyone who's every put an HTML page together. The authors ended up choosing a free Yahoo framework, but in part this was due to some requirements that excluded Google's (also free) AJAX framework from consideration. I liked the discussion of JavaScript compression, in part because I made a minor contribution to our engineer's adoption of html compression back before that was routinely done ....
Dr. Dobb's | AJAX: Selecting the Framework that Fits | May 1, 2007

...The smaller the footprint of the framework used, the less likely performance degradation occurs. The total compressed JavaScript file sizes required by YUI (22K) and Prototype (32K) are significantly smaller than the single custom Dojo JavaScript file, which is about 200K. All three libraries performed well with a high-speed connection; however, the YUI and Prototype/Scriptaculous prototypes performed faster with 56K dial-up connections...
It's a quick read, and it's a remarkable one-stop view of commercial web development.

[1] Wikipedia: "The XMLHttpRequest concept was originally developed by Microsoft as part of Outlook Web Access 2000." It pains me to confess that Microsoft actually added value to the Internet, but I think this was in the days before Ballmer killed IE development in order to keep the Microsoft Office franchise intact.

[2] Sigh. Microsoft helped there too with ECMAScript. When they have competition they're not all bad, shame that they always kill the competition.