Industry Giants Reluctantly Join Hot AJAX Development Trend - InformationWeek

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Software // Information Management

Industry Giants Reluctantly Join Hot AJAX Development Trend

As AJAX development heats up, industry giants add support.

In what seems to be a never-ending quest to make Web browser applications as rich and user friendly as desktop applications, AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) is picking up momentum. Microsoft recently added more steam to the AJAX juggernaut with its announcement of Windows Live (software largely built with AJAX) and a preview of Atlas, a development framework for AJAX software. These join the parade of relatively high-profile applications, such as Google Maps and Amazon's A9 search software, which were created with AJAX.

AJAX isn't a programming language; it's a bundle of technologies, most of them several years old. The name AJAX (credit Adaptive Path, a San Francisco-based Web design firm for coining the term) has solidified awareness of these technologies as a distinct approach. The technologies include: data interchange and manipulation with XML and XSLT; page presentation with XHTML and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets); dynamic display and user interaction with DOM (Document Object Model); asynchronous retrieval of data using XMLHttpRequest (originally developed by Microsoft); and tying it all together with JavaScript and a dollop of DHTML. The result is more responsive and sophisticated browser-based interfaces, especially when compared to clunky HTML.

Microsoft has for years used parts of the AJAX bundle to develop Web software, such as Outlook Web Client, but has downplayed its importance. Microsoft's position has been that AJAX has its uses but is too complicated to be mainstream. Of course, Microsoft also has more favored Web application approaches, such as Visual Studio Web services and, soon, .Net 2.0. Nevertheless, Microsoft doesn't want to miss out on the growing popularity of AJAX. Microsoft Atlas, set for early 2006, will be the company's path through the thicket of AJAX technologies.

The other 800-pound gorillas of software development are also tapping but not fully embracing AJAX: Oracle is working it into ADF.Faces.NEXT, IBM is wedding it to PHP (Sajax + PHP), Sun will have it as a component library for Java Studio Creator 2, and Borland is milling around with AJAX in JBuilder. The collective take is that AJAX is "complementary to" or "compatible with" other development systems. Like Microsoft, they're prone to mention the dark side of AJAX, which is complexity born of so many technologies.

Smaller companies with fewer proprietary legacies are more enthusiastically jumping on the wagon. One example is Tibco Software with its General Interface 3.0, which provides an API framework and a suite of development tools for AJAX. Other AJAX libraries include Ajax.Net, Sajax and Prototype. AJAX is also being shoehorned into other Web development frameworks, such as the increasingly prominent Ruby on Rails.

In spite of Java, .Net, Perl, PHP, Flash and a host of other approaches to improving Web applications, it's interesting that a scripting language and a form of HTML continues to draw some of developers' best efforts. When these efforts become highly successful, as in the case of Google Maps and GMail, the bandwagon starts to roll. At some point, it can become almost irrelevant whether this is the "best" approach. At least AJAX works in standard browsers with standard Web servers — no proprietary anything. More importantly, the popularity and widespread use of JavaScript, HTML and XML guarantees programmers who have a feel for AJAX essentials. Maybe that's what will, in the end, take it into the mainstream.

[ FAST LANE ]
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