Early Delivery from Microsoft? Atlas Arrives This Year

Microsoft is expected to announce the Release Candidate of its AJAX technology.

This month Microsoft is expected to announce the Release Candidate of its AJAX technology (code-named "Atlas"), after some fine-tuning based on customer feedback to its October beta release.

The Microsoft AJAX framework supports every style of development-from adding simple, server-side AJAX-style Web controls to existing applications, to crafting client-side JavaScript code for seasoned programmers. It consists of three components, all free to licensed ASP.NET 2.0 users: ASP.NET 2.0 AJAX Extensions, an AJAX Library and an ASP.NET AJAX Control Toolkit with an SDK.

"From a technical point of view it's well-architected, well-designed and fairly complete," observes Ray Valdes, Gartner's Internet platforms and Web services analyst, who believes the AJAX framework offers a compelling value for ASP.NET developers.

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"Microsoft has given us another tool," says William Sarris, an independent software architect and Microsoft Certified Professional who builds AJAX-enabled Web sites. "Like they normally do with any code, they've abstracted all the complexity into a higher level that their own particular developers would understand because it interfaces with the .NET library."

The Microsoft AJAX library is a pure client-side JavaScript framework that is independent of ASP.NET. It's comparable to open source DoJo, and other JavaScript libraries, which are independent of the server. In addition to ASP.NET 2.0, the Microsoft AJAX Library also works with PHP and ColdFusion application servers.

ASP.NET 2.0 AJAX early adopter PageFlakes
[click image for larger view]
ASP.NET 2.0 AJAX early adopter PageFlakes used a pre-release build to create this customizable, drag-and-drop user interface.

Microsoft is entering a crowded market with about 130 AJAX toolkits, 90 percent of which are open source projects, says Valdes. The half dozen or so commercial frameworks have been shipping for a while, and ASP.NET users already have some options with lighter-weight frameworks Anthem.NET and Ajax.NET.

Despite the competition, several companies are already using Atlas in prerelease form to enhance their Web sites: PageFlakes, Squeet, Title Z, WebBird and Snowboard, among others. Early plans to ship Atlas with the next version of Visual Studio (code-named "Orcas"), expected late next year, got shelved, according to Microsoft, be-cause customers clamored for production-ready software with fully supported APIs.

Microsoft expects to release 1.0 to manufacturing (RTM) in December. The core 1.0 technologies will not include all of the technologies in the Community Technology Pre-views (CTPs), which have been available under a Go-Live license since March.

Keith Smith, Microsoft senior product manager, Web Platform and Tools"Everything that you can do with ASP.NET AJAX today, you'll be able to do with the 1.0 release," says Keith Smith, Microsoft senior product manager, Web Platform and Tools, "but there will be some features that don't get the full support and those are really targeted at the non-enterprise developer."

Features that will be moved out of the core 1.0 framework to source code or CTP, according to Smith, include some client-side behaviors, client-side data binding classes and XML Script (Atlas script), which is a declarative way of building interfaces.

Microsoft is also working to get its tools onboard to help developers build these applications quickly. Visual Studio 2005 already integrates AJAX into the ASP.NET 2.0 development experience and it supports basic JavaScript authoring.

Orcas, the next-generation Visual Studio, and the upcoming Expression products will offer more tool support. Microsoft is also planning to revise its Web authoring tools such as Expression Web Designer and SharePoint Designer to support ASP.NET AJAX integration.

The Microsoft AJAX Control Toolkit provides tools and patterns to help developers build ASP.NET 2.0 AJAX extensions, as well as 16 sample extenders that Microsoft has provided. Microsoft's collaborative development site CodePlex is used for source-code sharing, and telerik and ComponentArt already offer Atlas controls.

"If you're a Microsoft shop, then Atlas should be on your short list and [it's] very likely you won't need anything else today," Valdes says, noting that intensive projects may require the Windows Presentation Foundation.

"If you're not an MS shop, you probably will want to look at some of the other toolkits available like DoJo or Prototype or Adobe Spry or rich Internet application technologies like Adobe Flex or TIBCO's General Interface," he advises. "At this point, Microsoft has done a great job technically with Atlas, and I think they've created a compelling value proposition for the ASP.NET developer."

About the Author

Kathleen Richards is the editor of and executive editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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