Guest Opinion

The Future of ASP.NET Hinges on Web 2.0

Web 2.0 and Ajax-related technologies began life outside the Microsoft domain, but these technologies are now critically important to the future of ASP.NET development.

Our company recently held its premiere WebBuilder 2.0 conference, where it highlighted the diverse collection of techniques and tools that are heralding the next generation of the Web.

I typically avoid forecasting the dawn of a new era, but the vision of Web 2.0 described at the show is already taking shape and represents the next logical progression of usability and interaction on the Web. Its principles are likely to remain persistent, even if the technologies vary, and all Web-oriented developers should be aware of them—including Visual Studio developers.

Despite Web 2.0's origins in Open Source and LAMP (Linux, Apache, Mozilla, PHP) technologies, Microsoft recognized the importance of these technologies quickly and rushed out community previews of Atlas (now called ASP.NET AJAX) so that Microsoft developers could also start using these technologies.

Leave aside for a moment the question of implementation. Web 2.0 is first and foremost about asynchronous data exchange to obtain a rich look and feel. This is where Atlas comes in. The Microsoft AJAX Library is a standalone collection of the standards-based Javascript classes included in ASP.NET AJAX. It lets you use ASP.NET controls to exchange data asynchronously between any Javascript-based Web browser and the server.

But Web 2.0 goes beyond AJAX. Consider the mash-up, which lets you combine features and data from multiple applications into an entirely new one. Mash-ups illustrate the concept that data should be parsed uniquely and organized for the individual user, or at least for small and distinct groups of users. The result is often a breakout application for that community.

Fortunately, much of the technology behind Web 2.0 is driven by XML as the declarative language. Microsoft has designated XML as a primary means of handling data between Web services, so it is a natural step from there to the interactive Web. And if you have been writing or integrating Web services, or using XML for data exchange with Web pages, you already have an advantage in using this technology.

There were several Microsoft-oriented presentations at FTP WebBuilder 2.0. For example, I gave a presentation on building geographic mash-ups using Microsoft Virtual Earth. Others talked about Web services, blogging, ASP.NET AJAX, and asynchronous interaction among Web services. But the key is that Microsoft technologies aren't excluded from participating in the party. In fact, Microsoft provides some highly productive tools and techniques for building interactive Web applications.

If you are writing ASP.NET applications, it's important to look at the principles behind AJAX and begin integrating them into your applications. These principles are asynchronicity and interactivity. An AJAX application uses Javascript and XML for asynchronous data exchange. A user enters data, and the data is transported to the server where code is executed, and a result is returned to the client. You don't refresh the page, only the data, and updates occur much more quickly and naturally.

Microsoft's ASP.NET AJAX has been considered a good implementation of AJAX. This tool is still in beta (a second community technology preview is available), but it provides the framework for Microsoft developers to write AJAX Web applications.

Interaction means that the user interacts more naturally with the application, a state encouraged by the more rapid response obtained by using AJAX. But it goes well beyond that. Interaction means that the application is able to adapt to unique user needs more easily. Mash-ups, lightweight data feeds (such as RSS), and facilities for producing user-generated content all make an application more accessible to its users.

If you are writing rich client applications, you are probably more used to the asynchronous nature of data and processing. Still, it's important to remember these principles. While rich client applications naturally possess richer levels of interaction, providing for lightweight data exchange, data filtering, and better user interaction should be on the minds of all application developers.

Users expect more from their applications today, and the technologies associated with Web 2.0 are the best way to deliver what users expect. This is not the next generation of the Web, but rather the next design pattern for applications in general. And while scripting and XML might eventually be supplanted by more modern technologies, the principles behind Web 2.0 will remain valid for many years.

About the Author

Peter Varhol is the executive editor, reviews of Redmond magazine and has more than 20 years of experience as a software developer, software product manager and technology writer. He has graduate degrees in computer science and mathematics, and has taught both subjects at the university level.

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