Microsoft Official: AJAX More than Eye Candy

Microsoft official: AJAX has reached maturity in enterprises.

Microsoft is putting developers on notice that it sees AJAX as more than just "eye candy" for Web sites.

Developers should also be looking at AJAX to add richer integration between browsers and back-end systems, company officials said at last month's AJAXWorld Conference and Exhibition in Santa Clara, Calif.

"Yes, the user experience is an integral part of what AJAX means, but it's not just about adding widgets to your Web applications," says Joe Stagner, who goes by the title of "opinionated misfit geek" within Microsoft's developer tools and platforms division. "For me, AJAX is about what kinds of application we can build with this technology that we couldn't build with the traditional click-and-page-navigate mechanism we've been using to build Web apps for quite some time."

Since releasing its ASP.NET AJAX toolkit earlier this year, Microsoft has put significant resources toward the popular programming technique for creating interactive Web content. Among other things, Microsoft used the eve of the conference to announce it has passed interoperability tests conducted by the OpenAjax Alliance, a consortium of vendors the company joined back in March.

The company also talked up the AJAX capabilities in its "Astoria" technology, now in CTP, which will be part of the next version of Visual Studio 2008, now in beta. With these developments, AJAX will be a suitable method for adding interactive features to business applications, Stagner says.

Case in point: A few years ago, before AJAX became a household word, Stagner worked in federal law enforcement technology, which involves analytics against a large collection of loosely related data. Using the equivalent of AJAX-style programming, he and his team created an application that linked field surveillance agents with the agency's OLAP database to provide real-time information about suspect locations through a Web browser. "It wasn't just about the quality of the user interface of that application," he says. "It was about the ability to dynamically take action on behalf of the user, and make queries to services and data that were external to the application."

Stagner credits Napster for laying the groundwork for the emergence of Web 2.0-style development and a general shift in perspective among software developers. "The peer-to-peer phenomenon made several things clear to us as software professionals," he says. "First, PCs had become powerful enough to be multimedia work stations ... [Second], broadband network connections had reached critical mass ... [Third], that user-contributed content could cut the server out of the mix and still have value."

He also sees the proliferation of XML Web services and other infrastructure technologies from Microsoft, Oracle Corp. and others as a key driver, because they allowed developers to begin thinking about the federation of logic and data. "It changed our thought processes a little bit to consider designing an application where all of the logic and all of the data didn't have to live in and come from the same place," he says.

Microsoft's perspective has changed, too, Stagner says. "We ship our entire AJAX stack as completely free, open source, licensed under a Free BSD License," he says. "Who would ever have thought that Microsoft would be shipping free, open source products?"

Underscoring the change in mindset was the company's decision to join the OpenAjax Alliance back in March. At the time, it was unclear whether Redmond would participate in interoperability testing. At AJAXWorld last month, Microsoft said its ASP.NET 2.0 Extensions for AJAX software had passed the OpenAjax Alliance's InteropFest 1.0 tests, which demonstrate that it's interoperable with other AJAX components in the OpenAjax ecosystem through the OpenAjax Hub.

The OpenAjax Alliance is an organization of software vendors, open-source projects and companies -- AJAX users -- working to promote the adoption of open and interoperable AJAX-based Web technologies.

ASP.NET 2.0 Extensions for AJAX (formerly code-named "Atlas") is a free framework that consists of the AJAX Client Library, ASP.NET AJAX Control Toolkit, ASP.NET AJAX Futures CTP and the Additions. Together, these components provide developers with a toolset balanced between the client and the server.

Microsoft's AJAX strategy is simple, says Forrester Research Inc. analyst Jeffrey Hammond. "Microsoft needs an AJAX strategy because this technology is moving quickly toward mainstream adoption," he says. "They have to make sure that .NET developers don't feel that they have to jump to alternative technologies to take advantage of these sorts of applications and user-interface paradigms."

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance author and journalist based in Silicon Valley. His latest book is The Everything Guide to Social Media. Follow John on Twitter, read his blog on, check out his author page on Amazon, or e-mail him at

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