Top AJAX tools deliver rich GUI goodness
Backbase, Bindows, JackBe, and Tibco General Interface bring fat features to enterprise Web clients
Many developers begin dabbling with AJAX by downloading some of the well-known open source toolkits (see "Surveying open-source AJAX toolkits"). Collections such as Dojo and Rico are good introductions that let you insert a widget in a Web page without too much work. It’s even pretty easy to link up these widgets to the server with some asynchronous code that syncs the browser page with information from a distant server. The open source kits are fertile, but they still feel somewhat experimental, and much rawer than the top-end, commercial products discussed here. You wouldn’t use Backbase, Bindows, JackBe, or Tibco General Interface to just put a fancy table here or an animated button there, although you could. These are full frameworks that function best when you buy into them and give your entire application over to their structure.
All of these systems are built around full collections of widgets that are joined with a central backbone of events and server calls that link the widgets in a cohesive set of panes. All of the standard parts of a Web form, including selection boxes, text boxes, and buttons are available for your use, but that’s not all. The developers have also automated many parts of a Web page that are normally fairly static. You can make tables reconfigure themselves, adding or subtracting data in response to clicks or distant changes in a database. Events flow across a central bus to all parts of the system -- much like many of the standard object-oriented application frameworks. It’s a programming experience that’s closer to creating a new desktop application than building a Web page, and the results show it. Your packages will look and behave like a desktop application with features such as pull-down menus and panels that aren’t a normal part of a Web designer’s repertoire. I’ve been examining these packages for several years now, yet I’m still floored by how easy it is to add OS-level features such as drag-and-drop icons to your homepage. This is not the 1990s Web.