AJAX Developers Tell Microsoft IE Is Not Enough

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2006-06-14

AJAX Developers Tell Microsoft IE Is Not Enough

BOSTON—When it comes to Asynchronous JavaScript and XML programming, browser compatibility is number one for Microsoft, said a key Microsoft partner who spoke here on the companys behalf.

Jeff Prosise, co-founder of Wintellect, a Knoxville, Tenn., consulting, debugging and training firm specializing in Microsoft .NET and Windows technologies, spoke about Microsofts AJAX development framework known by its codename "Atlas" at the Microsoft TechEd 2006 conference, and noted that browser compatibility is a primary goal for Microsoft.

In a birds-of-a-feather session entitled "AJAX, ASP.Net and You: All About Microsoft Atlas," Prosise said: "Heres the deal on Atlas today; we are deadly serious about browser compatibility."

Addressing the packed session, Prosise asked how important it was to the group of Web application developers that they be able to target more than one browser with their development framework.

"You mean theres more than one browser?" one member of the Microsoft-oriented audience blurted out, drawing laughter from the crowd.

"How important is it that Atlas be able to work in more than one browser?" Prosise asked again.

The vast majority of the people in the room raised their hands and said cross-browser capability was important to them. Indeed, more than 50 percent said they have customers who use Macs and are in need of browser support beyond Microsofts Internet Explorer.

And only two members of the audience said they did not care about browser compatibility because they only worked in the IE space.

Most members in the audience said they needed to support IE and Firefox, and a large number said they also needed to be able to support the Safari and Mozilla browsers.

But only a relative few said they needed or cared about support for the Opera browser.

One developer, who requested anonymity, said Microsoft needs to pressure the browser makers to be more compatible. "This is the vehicle to make it happen," he said of Atlas. "Lets assume Opera has to adopt," he said.

Another developer added: "If its important to get to Opera, you may have to do a little work for it."

Meanwhile, Prosise noted that "99 percent of you seem to be satisfied with support for four browsers." The four browsers being IE, Firefox, Safari and Mozilla, he added.

And Prosise said the audience feedback was welcome because, "The Atlas team is relatively small and they can never have enough developers or testers. So I cant say if Opera support is driven by scheduling or resources, but they need to hear from you."

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Microsoft released its most recent CTP (Community Technology Preview) of Atlas in April 2006, but has not said exactly when a commercial version of the technology will be available.

Sources said a June 2006 CTP will become available soon, but will be primarily a bug-fix release.

Prosise said he was under a NDA (non-disclosure agreement) and could not comment on product availability. However, he said that according to Microsofts public statements, the technology will be released by the end of 2006. "And I think its likely theyll follow through on that," he said.

Moreover, Prosise said he was "shocked" that when Microsoft released its March CTP of Atlas, it had a limited Go-Live license to enable developers to put sites they have been building with Atlas into production.

"And I think to some extent they regret having released that Go-Live license so early," Prosise said, noting that initially Microsoft had talked about releasing the Go-Live license with a CTP later in the summer.

Next Page: Is AJAX over-hyped?

Is AJAX Over


Acting as an emcee for the session, Prosise kept the event moving with questions for the audience. At one point he asked: "Is AJAX even an important technology? Is it over-hyped?" At that he immediately laughed and added: "You know, I feel like Jerry Springer up here."

Meanwhile, Prosise said Wintellect is big on Atlas. "Were actually building things with customers based on Atlas … I think this is one of the most exciting technologies of this time. Were betting on AJAX and Atlas."

Prosise also said he has heard some developers grouse over whether Microsoft is trying to co-opt JavaScript.

Click here to read about recent announcements around Microsofts Atlas AJAX platform.

"Microsoft is not co-opting JavaScript," Prosise said. "Theyre just making some very clever uses of nuances in the language" to improve its performance and efficiency. "It is 100 percent JavaScript" in Atlas, he added.

Prosise also echoed the complaints of many developers when it comes to JavaScript.

"I dont know about you, but I hate JavaScript; its a horrible language," he said.

However, Atlas "is an incredible, extensible framework and its just waiting for people to delve into it," Prosise said.

With Atlas, Prosise said Microsoft is able to make "JavaScript goo" look "a little bit more like C#."

For example, JavaScript does not support things like interfaces, namespaces and inheritance, but Atlas does, which makes the language behave more like C#, he said.

In addition, with Atlas, Prosise said Microsoft is building something that the company intends for third-party vendors to build upon and build an ecosystem around.

Other issues discussed in the Atlas session included the optimal size of an Atlas download for users.

"Whats an acceptable download size?" Prosise asked.

This caused a flurry of audience responses ranging from 20KB to 100KB.

"How Atlas does it today is in chunks," Prosise said. "You only download the parts you need, the core framework. The size of that is 30 to 40K."

Moreover, Prosise said Atlas is actually two things, in that you can program it for the client or the server.

On the server Atlas is essentially a set of controls the developer can drag and drop, he said.

"The server-side controls render out Atlas XML Script and that script fires up an XML service and turns that XML script into declarative code, JavaScript," Prosise said.

So the developer has two choices: to write JavaScript code of their own or "write Atlas XML Script by hand to go against the client-side framework," he said.

Also, while the choice of models, whether server or client, is based on what suits each developer most, Prosise warned that as Atlas is still preview technology, it is going to change before it becomes commercial quality.

"Its going to change, but if you stick to the server side now, youre going to be a lot more insulated against changes," he said.

While Prosise raved about the Atlas Update Panel, which marks a section of the page that can receive updates to it via client script instead of refreshing the whole page, as "magical," he said there is room for improvement.

"Youll see the Update Panel work very well before it ships. There are some issues with it now, but theyre working on them," Prosise said.

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