Microsoft makes AJAX technology available

Using ASP.Net AJAX 1.0, developers can build interfaces with reusable AJAX components, enhance sites with controls

Without further adieu, Microsoft released its ASP.Net AJAX 1.0 technology, formerly called Atlas, to the Web on Tuesday.

ASP.Net AJAX 1.0 enables Web developers to build AJAX-style (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) Web applications by integrating with the .Net Framework and the Microsoft platform. ASP.Net AJAX is a free framework for building interactive, personalized Web experiences. It functions with the Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, and Opera browsers.

Microsoft's AJAX offering first debuted in a preview version in October 2005, and another preview with a Go-Live license, was offered in March 2006. The Go-Live license enables live deployments of the technology.

"Since that timeframe, the team's been working very aggressively to deliver a fully supported 1.0 release as quickly as possible," said Keith Smith, Microsoft group product manager for the Web platform and tools team. A release candidate was offered last month as the prelude to today's general release.

The Microsoft AJAX library, featuring standard JavaScript code running on the browser, and the ASP.Net 2.0 AJAX Extensions, which are server-centric pieces to enable a drag-and-drop developer experience are included as part of AJAX 1.0. In a related development, Microsoft on Tuesday is updating its ASP.Net AJAX Control Toolkit, which runs with ASP.Net AJAX 1.0 and features controls for advanced effects such as animation and auto-complete behavior.

Accessible here, ASP.Net AJAX 1.0 includes all features of previous versions plus enhanced training capabilities.

Developers using ASP.Net AJAX 1.0 can build interfaces with reusable AJAX components and enhance existing Web pages with AJAX controls. They also can access remote services and data from a browser without writing a lot of complicated script, Microsoft said. Additionally, developers can use the AJAX software with Visual Studio, but Visual Studio is not a requirement.

ASP.Net AJAX 1.0 will be included in the upcoming Orcas version of Visual Studio, but Microsoft has set no release date yet for Orcas.

ASP.Net 2.0 AJAX Extensions will be available under the Microsoft Reference License (Ms-RL) to enable developers to view code to aid with application debugging, maintenance, and interoperability. The reference license lets developers refer to source code, but it does not allow the code to be redistributed.

Microsoft contends users of ASP.Net AJAX get more business value from Web sites because they can deliver differentiated, relevant experiences to customers.

At the Microsoft TechEd 2006 conference in Boston last June, an official at a .Net consulting firm said Atlas had faced some difficulty in development. The Update Panel feature, for easily doing incremental page refreshes, was cited as having reliability problems.

But Smith said Update Panel is an included feature. "We have no reliability issues in our Update Panel, and if there are issues discovered, we offer full technical support," said Smith.

Even though it had not been available in a general-release format, ASP.Net AJAX ranked high with Adobe Flex in an Evans Data report detailed Tuesday entitled "Scripting Languages -- Developers Choice Report." Flex scored slightly higher than Microsoft's technology.

An Evans Data analyst on Tuesday cited the importance of Microsoft's entrant in the AJAX arena.

"It is a very important technology to the scripting landscape, especially to those developers who favor Microsoft products and Microsoft strategies," said analyst John Andrews, president of Evans Data.

Also in the AJAX realm, an early version of Æjaks, an open-source project combining the Echo2 AJAX windowing system with Tcl (Tool Command Language), has been released, said the developer of the technology, Tom Poindexter.

With Æjaks, developers get a development environment for building AJAX-based Web applications, often with much less coding, according to the Æjaks Web page.

Design goals include simplifying AJAX programming, providing a thin layer over Echo2, and offering a Tk-inspired object interface. Æjaks uses Jacl, a Java implementation of Tcl implemented on top of Echo2. Tk is a toolkit coupled with Tcl.

"My intentions are to basically bring the Tcl [language and] Tk into the AJAX environment," Poindexter said on Tuesday.

Tk, he said, has featured a windowing toolkit that is cross-platform and enables building of applications on Windows, Unix, and Mac OS. "I'm trying to use that same style of programming in an AJAX environment," Poindexter said.

Version 0.4 of Æjaks was released on January 1. Plans call for adding Echo2 component libraries for capabilities such as menus and visual effects. Also planned is the addition of a unified database access layer to make Æjaks more of a framework, Poindexter said.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.