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More Bandwith for Microsoft AJAX

Web development, once the Cinderella story at Microsoft, seems to be getting the royal treatment this year as new technologies and services continue to emerge at top speed. This week, the ASP.NET folks introduced a free Content Delivery Network for geo-located caching of ASP.NET AJAX and jQuery libraries.

To date, the CDN supports the September preview of ASP.NET AJAX 4.0 (version 0909) and jQuery version 1.3.2. This latest version of the AJAX libraries, ASP.NET AJAX 4.0 Preview 5, is available on CodePlex. It adds support for the ASP.NET UpdatePanel, among other client-side data improvements (dynamic and recursive templates).

With Microsoft's AJAX CDN, static content can now be hosted for free across thousands of edge servers worldwide. In theory, this should allow developers to utilize Microsoft's bandwidth to better optimize content (images, CSS, JavaScript) delivery on their Web sites, as end users' browsers request script files from the closest network servers.

The CDN can be used without registration for commercial and non-commercial content, according to Microsoft. It works with Microsoft's ASP.NET AJAX and jQuery libraries in ASP.NET MVC and ASP.NET Web Forms apps. New tools and technologies in ASP.NET 4.0 and Visual Studio 2010 will improve developers' ability to take advantage of Microsoft's CDN. The ScriptManager control in ASP.NET 4.0, will include a new EnableCdn property that will allow developers to automate this functionality in their Web Forms apps, according to a blog posting by Scott Guthrie, announcing the AJAX content delivery network.

It's early days –- the AJAX CDN was announced on Tuesday -- and developers have already peppered Microsoft with questions about privacy, support for custom libraries, security and failover to local servers.

In response to a question about remote JavaScript IntelliSense from a commenter on Guthrie's blog, Stephen Walther, a member of the ASP.NET AJAX team, responded:

"Visual Studio 2010 supports JavaScript Intellisense from the CDN. When you add a script that refers to the CDN, Visual Studio 2010 grabs the vsdoc or debug file that corresponds to the script in the background automatically (You don't have to do anything special to get the Intellisense to work). We are already hosting the debug versions of the Microsoft Ajax scripts and the vsdoc files for both jQuery and the jquery.validate plug-in on the CDN."

At this point, the CDN does not support automatic failover to local scripts, which Walther noted was a great suggestion, or apparently, custom or open source JavaScript libraries other than jQuery.

Google offers a free CDN as part of its AJAX Libraries API. It supports open source JavaScript libraries such as jQuery, script_aculo_us, Dojo, and Yahoo! User interface Libraries, among others.

"The whole issue of which JavaScript library to use among Web developers in general is an embarrassment of riches," says Al Hilwa, program director of Application Developer Software for market researcher IDC. He notes that even though Microsoft has globbed on to jQuery, there are more than a hundred libraries that are popular with developers.

"It is good for Microsoft to be seen as just as gung ho as their competitors are, because clearly Web development is where the excitement is in terms of new application development today," says Hilwa. "Like everything else that is new, Microsoft's CDN may take some time to stabilize in terms of performance, but it is definitely a plus to have this kind of support for external Web sites."

The AJAX market is still much bigger, according to Hilwa, than the use of plugins such as Flash, Silverlight and the emerging JavaFx. "It is not an either or proposition," he explains. Developers still think of AJAX techniques as the baseline development for Web apps.

Is Microsoft's Content Delivery Network something that your company would consider using for its external Web apps? Express your thoughts below or drop me a line at [email protected]

Posted by Kathleen Richards on 09/17/2009

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