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The really big enabling feature was XmlHttpRequest (released with IE 5), which allowed client side JavaScript to make HTTP requests for the first time. And then, as you say the improvements in performance, reliability and consistency of the APIs between browsers made a big difference.

I agree that was the biggest individual piece, but even XmlHttpRequest had to grow up over time. After all... just look at the name... it was not initially a generic "run a web request without a page refresh" object. :)

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