Microsoft gets hip to Ajax

Company is building software that provides developers with tools designed to ease creation of Ajax-style applications.

Not to be left out of any development trends, Microsoft is working to simplify the job of building so-called Ajax applications, or Web applications with sophisticated graphics.

The company is building software, code-named Atlas, that provides developers with tools designed to ease creation of Ajax-style applications. An early version of the software will be made available to developers at the company's Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles in September.

Though it's a relatively new term, Ajax describes a set of Web technologies invented and standardized during the past eight years. Those include JavaScript, dynamic HTML and a feature called XmlHttp which reduces the need for Web clients to reconnect to a Web server every time information is downloaded.

A growing number of proponents argue that applications created with Ajax perform better than today's Web browser-based applications.

Microsoft's Atlas is a "Web client framework" designed to make the job of building Ajax-style applications simpler, said Charles Fitzgerald, the company's general manager for platform technologies.

"People who do (Ajax development) are rocket scientists," Fitzgerald said. "In some ways, this papers over the mess that is JavaScript development. It's easy-to-build 'spaghetti' code."

Atlas--which is a downloadable piece of JavaScript code--gives developers a more structured environment for building applications, providing time-saving services such as an object model and debugging, he said. It will work across any Web browser that supports Ajax technologies.

Developers can use the Atlas software through Microsoft's Visual Studio 2005 development tools and the Web development framework ASP.Net 2.0, both of which are expected to ship in November.

Fitzgerald said Atlas is part of a suite of Microsoft technologies for creating so-called rich-client applications, which feature sophisticated user interface design and quicker performance than traditional Web applications.

The company is also investing in development tools to more easily build Office applications that tap into data from back-end applications, such as those from SAP and Siebel.

At the Professional Developers Conference, Microsoft will give more information on front-end development using Avalon, the presentation system and programming model scheduled to arrive with Windows update Longhorn next year, Fitzgerald said.

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