Ajax is the craze, we all know this... it was the buzz word for 2005 and will continue to bring buzz in '06. The reason is because it allows and encourages the building of full blown web applications that act more like desktop software. No page refreshes, direct server connection for data refreshes in real time. Usually a short initial load time and then you're good to go!
Reading Slashdot today I read a post about AjaxLaunch.com creating web based applications that will compete with the office suites. They mention M$ - but in reality - it is designed to compete just as much with OpenOffice. They plan to launch a new application each week through this website - so keep it bookmarked and keep checking back often.
The first application that they've launched is called AjaxWrite and is a web based competitor for Word. Over a broadband connection it took about 15 seconds to load the application and delivered an application feel that was very similar to Wordpad. Toolbars were there and looked just like the Office toolbars, core functionality was already there and they've promised to keep building on it to add in the more advanced features. I was able to open up my M$ Word documents with a bit of formatting issues, make changes and then resave the file back down to my machine. Overall it just seems like another HTML editor - but there are HTML editors with more features out there already. I guess the selling feature is that it works with *.doc files - but since it doesn't have some of the more advanced features - it sometimes messes with your original documents.
With Office 2007 being delayed and planning to ship in 2007, that gives AjaxLaunch a great head start to get something up and running that may actually have people using it - although they have lots to do to get it up to something people will see real value in.
You know who this is really cool for? Adobe! What I don't feel has happened yet is that people haven't realized the powerful applications that you can create with Adobe Flex. However with Adobe announcing that Flex Data Services and the Flex SDK will be free when released out of beta it should get some attention. It's the fastest way to create applications that can tie in to your existing web application architecture and deliver a rich experience to your web customers.
If anything - Ajax will prove to web users that RIA's are not only the future but are definitely the way to go. Sooner or later web developers will also see that the fastest way to get up to speed with delivering RIA's that enhance the user's experience even more and take RIA's to the next level is the Adobe Flash Platform.