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By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2006-03-20 Print this article Print

Rockford "Rocky" Lhotka, principal technology evangelist at Magenic Technologies, said Magenic has been doing prototyping internally and for customers, using AJAX-style technologies, and "one of the ones weve been using is Atlas." Lhotka said Atlas "spans a range of capabilities, providing a low-level programmatic library in the browser, a more abstract and often more productive declarative programming model, and perhaps most useful is the integration with ASP.Net 2.0 to allow developers to add dynamic client-side interaction purely by using new server-side ASP.Net controls."
Moreover, Lhotka said his companys prototypes have primarily focused on providing a higher level of interactivity to the user within the browser.
"Many people choose the browser for wide reach, but still really want to provide a Windows-like experience for their users," he said. "Atlas is a good step toward achieving that goal. Obviously, the browser is still a long way from a rich client, but using Atlas weve been able to provide field-by-field validation of data as the user tabs off each field, which is a big issue for user productivity. "Also, weve been able to radically reduce the number of page refreshes, which makes Web pages feel much more like a Windows application, leading to happier users and more productivity." Lhotka said the three key strengths of Atlas "are that it is reasonably browser independent—working with both IE [Internet Explorer] and Firefox—and that it integrates into the existing ASP.Net and Visual Studio development models, and finally that it is so flexible." Hamid Shojaee, president of Axosoft, of Scottsdale, Ariz., which produces, a free e-mail RSS reader, said, "Atlas has allowed us to quickly add rich, client-side UI to many areas of Squeet is an RSS-to-e-mail service where subscriptions are managed on the Web, but the RSS feeds that are subscribed to are delivered via e-mail. "We have a number of features in now, including a Feed Preview functionality that is driven by Atlas. Additionally, all of the grid-based list views in the application use Atlas to allow for quick execution of paging and sorting, improving the performance of these operations by 500 to 600 percent." Shojaee said normally implementing AJAX-enabled features is a very developer-demanding and time-consuming activity, which is why most people stay away from it, and which is partly why Axosoft had stayed away from it. However, "with Atlas, the development time and complexity of AJAX is dramatically reduced, so it takes away the hurdles normally associated with AJAX development. It provides a very rich set of controls and features that improve the user experience with very little code." Is Microsofts Atlas tool the answer to AJAXs challenges? Click here to read more. Brian Goldfarb, lead product manager for Web Platform and Tools at Microsoft, said Atlas is a tool developers can use to provide competitive advantage to their enterprise. "Look and feel and emotional connection between a piece of software and the user is becoming a competitive differentiator," Goldfarb said. Moreover, he noted that "tools for AJAX-style development are pretty immature, so what were trying to do is make AJAX-style development simple and productive." Keith Smith, senior product manager for Web Platform and Tools, said Microsoft felt the March CTP has progressed the Atlas software enough to provide users with a limited Go-Live license to enable developers to put sites they have been building with Atlas into production. Smith said Microsoft typically does not issue a Go-Live license until the Beta 2 stage of a product. Smith said the March CTP of Atlas delivers better integration with ASP.Net and bridging to aggregate Web services from third parties. The March CTP also provides additional Atlas server controls for more dynamic user interface functionality. "Microsoft has done a good job of abstracting away much of the complexity associated with AJAX implementation—but, of course, at times Id like to get back under the hood to do some customization," Wait said. "Im hoping that theyll provide us with a way to hook into certain Atlas events as they occur, allowing me to provide better feedback to users about whats going on during an AJAX call. Some of that is there already, but I think theres room for improvement in terms of ease of use for the developer in those areas." Meanwhile, Al Zabir said, "Some of the drawbacks of Atlas include lack of complete support for Opera and Safari browsers, large framework which is always downloaded on the client on each page visit, and some problems with exception handling, which sometimes gives no clue about the source of the problem but just an error message." However, "the part that needs most improvement is the documentation of Atlas, which is now quite inadequate," he said. Other developers agreed about the documentation, but noted that for a product not yet in beta they did not expect complete documentation. "Certainly one thing is clear—even with Atlas, the browsers capabilities simply dont match those of Windows itself," Lhotka said. "The more you want your Web pages to act like Windows, the more expensive it becomes. Atlas helps ease some of that cost and pain, but my feeling is that ultimately Atlas is a bridge between simple HTML and WPF [Windows Presentation Foundation], filling an important niche." Goldfarb said Atlas will be part of Orcas, the code name for the next version of Visual Studio. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis in Web services.

Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.

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