For the last few weeks, I've been plugging away nonstop at work on an internal website that will be used to manage a heavily data-driven external customer website. The primary users of this internal site are not at all technically savvy—at least, not outside their specific spheres of expertise—so my primary goal was to make the site highly intuitive, mainly so as to avoid being pestered with questions.
One thing I learned a long time ago is that most people do not find web-based forms intuitive at all. Sure, anyone can use Google, but as soon as you mix it up a bit with a few text input fields, a select box, maybe a checkbox or two, people start getting confused. Adding inline help text and tooltips doesn't solve anything, because people automatically tune them out. They'll always, always assume it's easier to ask someone for help than to look around for an answer themselves, even when it's right in front of them.
So I decided early on that this site, despite being incredibly input-centric and thus necessitating the use of forms, would use them completely transparently. I wanted the users to forget they were using a website. I didn't want them to feel restricted; I wanted them to be able to do whatever felt natural. If a user is looking at a table of customer information and decides they want to change a customer's name, they shouldn't have to click a link and open a form. They should be able to click on the name and start editing, and their changes should take effect transparently. No visible forms, no submit buttons, no page refreshes.
Since I had free reign to do whatever I wanted, and since I didn't have a looming deadline, I decided to take my time, do some research, and try some new things. The first thing I experimented with, of course, was the XMLHttpRequest object, which has been around for a while but has only recently gotten a lot of attention thanks to Gmail. I was not disappointed; XMLHttpRequest is an incredibly useful tool when used appropriately, and it's supported by Mozilla, Safari and Internet Explorer. Opera has lagged behind, but I hear it's in the latest beta (no doubt thanks to Gmail).
People are starting to expect more, and they're finally willing to upgrade their damn browsers to get it. Thank God.