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Let s consider a web page that benefits from some Ajax navigation but is also set up to handle some of the issues I have identified. This particular example uses a typical twocolumn layout. Figure 8-2 depicts the site with the top navigation and side navigation being Ajax-enabled (which works well in this case due to the way the site is laid out),
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CHAPTER 8 ERGONOMIC DISPLAY
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while the bottom navigation is left to ordinary means of linking (because Ajax would not work very well in this case).
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Figure 8-2. Your everyday, run-of-the-mill, two-column web page layout
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Now, in this case, because both the top and side navigation are high enough up on the page, you can enable Ajax for them both and not experience much difficulty. In this example, even the footer navigation would be safe if the content on each page remains roughly the same size. However, as you may know, web pages have a habit of changing size depending on the amount of content in a particular page. Have a look at Figure 8-3 and what can happen if you try to use Ajax-based navigation in the footer on pages of a larger size.
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Figure 8-3. Not a very useful or appealing view. Ajax in footers may not be the best of ideas.
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As you can see, the page simply loads based on where the link was clicked. This is not a very desirable effect and can cause confusion. In order to do this page properly, it is imperative to have the bottom links (in the footer) refresh the page and start you back at the top by simply using normal navigation, rather than Ajax-based navigation.
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One of the more powerful effects of using Ajax for ergonomic purposes involves the principle of Now you see it, now you don t. Enabling onscreen objects to appear and disappear at the click of a link is a powerful tool in that you can show exactly what you want without having to move to a different page. A prime example of this revolves around the notion of drop-down menus. By storing navigation within hidden menus, you can save space on your web page and allow content to appear only when necessary. This sort of functionality is once again quite overused, and not suitable to every position within a web page. As with the aforementioned Ajax navigation, it is important to use common sense when calling hidden objects. For example, in instances like the two-column layout shown previously, menus are really only useful at the top of the page. Putting them at the bottom will only frustrate your user. Figure 8-4 shows a way to display a menu that will help with navigation.
CHAPTER 8 ERGONOMIC DISPLAY
Figure 8-4. Hiding and showing elements of a web page is a great, ergonomic way to make use of Ajax-based functionality.
Now, it s pretty obvious that ergonomics plays a major role when it comes to creating layouts that the user is both familiar with and can use with little effort when using clientside Ajax. However, it is when you combine Ajax with a server-side language such as PHP that you can truly start to make things amazing for your audience.
Introduction to PEAR
As you might imagine, there are plenty of open source libraries available to the PHP language. In fact, one might say that PHP s success as a language is due to the multitude of available resources and the amazing, helpful online community. Because of the large amount of open source development libraries, implementing clean, effective code into your Ajax-based applications is a mere Google search away. However, like anything, some code libraries/repositories are better than others. One of the more robust extension packages that has been around for quite a while is that of the PEAR (PHP Extension and Application Repository) package. PEAR is more
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