Is AJAX-Powered, Rich Client technology an example of a Disruptive Technology?

I am always a bit suspect when people start using terms like “Disruptive Technology.” It is one of those overloaded terms that seems to get abused far more than it should. As a personal aside to all those power-brokers out there who love buzz words, please read an author’s book before you use his terms. It makes a difference.

Ok, so for those of you that are unfamiliar with the term, it was coined by Harvard professor Clayton Christensen in his book, Innovator’s Dilemma. Unlike other authors that have attempted to venture into the innovation area, Christensen presents a cogent theory describing a particular type of innovation. In the article, “Will Disruptive Innovations Cure Health Care,” appearing in Harvard Business Review, Christensen describes disruptive technologies as cheaper, more convenient products or services that start by meeting the needs of less demanding customers. These technologies do not initially perform as well as incumbent products with respect to current price/performance metrics. The catch is, however, that these technologies eventually match the price/performance of incumbent products and introduce a new metric for performance along the way. For example, the performance of 14 inch disk drives was initially measured by cost/megabyte. When 8 inch disk drives were introduced, they did not initially perform as well from a price/performance perspective. Eventually, however, they not only matched 14 inch disk drive performance, but introduced a new metric for performance–size.

That being said, is AJAX-Powered, Rich Client technology an example of a disruptive technology? It sure looks it might. Rich Client technology is being utilized to create a new breed of web-based application. The performance of applications built using this technology is definitely not up to par with current desktop applications with respect to the amount of relative functionality accessible via their programmatic frameworks. Over the past year, however, these technologies have transformed from a couple neat hacks into full development frameworks. Applications leveraging rich client technology have become increasingly sophisticated. Are these applications up to par with the best of the desktop apps? No–but, if they continue to improve at this rate they will. If and when they do get there, a new metric for performance will have been introduced–accessibility. Stay tuned for more fun. Later fanboys.

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