OpenAjax Alliance tackles interoperability

Standard JavaScript would allow coexistence of run-time libraries

Looking to bolster AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) and development of Web 2.0 applications, the OpenAjax Alliance on Wednesday plans to introduce a project that addresses AJAX interoperability issues.

The alliance, which features vendors such as IBM, Oracle, and Sun Microsystems, will roll out its OpenAjax Hub project. This effort involves developing a standard set of JavaScript functionality to tackle problems with interoperability arising when multiple AJAX libraries are used within the same Web page. With the hub, multiple AJAX run-time libraries would be able to coexist on a page. Version 1.0 of the OpenAjax Hub is planned for completion by the end of this calendar year; integration of the hub into AJAX toolkits expected in early 2007.

"[In] today's world, AJAX libraries in general believe they own the entire browser [and] JavaScript environment, that they're the first one and the last one, so they assume a consequence-free environment where they can do whatever they want to do," said Jon Ferraiolo, acting director of the alliance and a Web architect in the emerging technologies group at IBM. What results, he said, are collisions of JavaScript objects and the toolkits managing HTML markup, and an inability to integrate functions such as drag and drop events.

With development of the hub, the alliance is dealing with its top priority, said Jason Bloomberg, senior analyst at ZapThink, in an e-mail response to questions.

"There is a critical need for OpenAjax at this point in time, because each vendor's AJAX implementation is generally incompatible with the others," Bloomberg said. "Basically, even though each AJAX widget leverages XML and JavaScript, both of which are open standards, that doesn't mean that one widget from one toolkit will work with another widget from some other toolkit. The most important goal of OpenAjax is figuring out how to resolve this interoperability problem. Clearly, Ajax will be far more successful if any widget works with any other widget, toolkit, or platform."

Support for the hub is expected in toolkits such as Dojo and script.aculo.us as well as in AJAX frameworks such as Tibco General Interface and offerings from Backbase, JackBe and Nexaweb. "No one has made any commitments [to use the hub yet] but generally, [the parties cited] are all active in the alliance," said Ferraiolo.

The unveiling of the hub is part of an update on the alliance's activities that is being provided Wednesday. The group will announce a near-doubling of its membership since its formation in February. New members include The Ajaxian, American Greetings, Bling Software, Curl, edge IPK, eLink Business Innovations, ENOVIA, MatrixOne, Finetooth, The Front Side, Ikivo, ILOG, IN2, IT Mill, Javeline, JWAX, Merced Systems, Nexaweb, Nitobi, OpenLink Software, Seagull Software, Sitepen, Sun, Vertex Logic, Vircon, Webtide, and Zoho.

Previously announced members of the alliance include: Adobe, Backbase, BEA Systems, Borland, the Dojo Foundation, Eclipse Foundation, Fair Isaac, Google, IBM, ICEsoft, Innoopract, Intel, JackBe, Laszlo Systems, Mozilla Corporation, Novell, Openwave Systems, Opera, Oracle, Red Hat, SAP, Scalix, Software AG, Tibco, XML11, Zend, and Zimbra.

While the alliance already has an impressive list of members, one name remains conspicuously absent: Microsoft.

"Yes, we have extended an invitation and attempted to recruit Microsoft to join," Ferraiolo said. "We would love to have Microsoft participate in the alliance."

"The purpose of the alliance is to make interoperability successful such that you can take AJAX technologies from one source and use it with another vendor's. Microsoft is one of [those] vendors and an important vendor in the AJAX community and it would be to everybody's advantage, particularly customers, if Microsoft's products would interoperate well with other people's products," said Ferraiolo. He added he was not making a statement that Microsoft products currently do not interoperate.

Although Microsoft has promoted AJAX via its Atlas technologies, Microsoft currently does not have plans to join.

"Microsoft has no firm plans to join the OpenAjax Alliance. However, Microsoft is very committed to working with the developer community and is engaged in dialogue with the OpenAjax Alliance organizers to learn more about the initiative," Microsoft said in a prepared statement.

The alliance seeks to serve as an industry catalyst to boost AJAX-enabled Web 2.0 applications. Ferraiolo defines Web 2.0 as a new generation of the Web focused on collaboration. OpenAjax technologies are intended to produce lower development costs, faster delivery of applications, vendor choice, interoperability, and a richer Web experience. Greater collaboration capabilities that can be added to existing HTML sites or used for new applications is another goal.

Also being unveiled on Wednesday is the organization's Web site and a white paper covering a description of AJAX, the AJAX value proposition and a technical section on AJAX architectures. These architectures include single and dual DOMs (Document Object Model), in which the single model involves processing everything in HTML browsers, while the dual approach involves using an XML parser that holds the description of the UI. The dual model offers a richer set of functionality but requires a larger download, typically, Ferraiolo said.

AJAX in the open source world also is being included in the alliance's list of issues to cover. One of the goals for the alliance is the ability to have a zero-cost option, but it's not trying to lock out vendors from making money at all," said Ferraiolo.

A second meeting of the alliance is planned for Oct. 5-6 in Santa Clara, Calif. The alliance on Oct. 5 plans to announce it has moved to a formal governance model that includes a steering committee. Goals and procedural issues also will be discussed. Security of AJAX also will be on the agenda, Ferraiolo said.

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