AJAX Tools Get Green Light

Several major software companies aim to cash in on the growing use of AJAX by delivering tools to help developers build applications that take advantage of the popular style of Web development.

Several major software companies aim to cash in on the growing use of AJAX by delivering tools to help developers build applications that take advantage of the popular style of Web development.

Sun Microsystems Inc., Microsoft Corp. and TIBCO Software Inc. have announced plans to support or increase their support for AJAX development, and Google Inc. and others are expected to join the race with AJAX frameworks or tools of their own.

AJAX, or Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, is a development technique for building interactive Web applications using a combination of HTML, JavaScript and XMLHTTP, experts say. "AJAX is this overnight sensation that was invented almost a decade ago," said Charles Fitzgerald, general manager of the platform strategy group at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash. "And a lot of the core functionality showed up in IE [Internet Explorer] 4 and IE 5."

"To me, AJAX is so strange because at its core it is more of an architecture than a technology," said Dion Almaer, chief technology officer at Adigio Inc., in Cambridge, Mass. "What is exciting about AJAX is purely changing apps so that instead of having a full request/response, which pulls down a full page on simple events, you can have a page that sends off minor events."

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For its part, Sun has announced that Java Studio Creator 2, the next version of its tool for simplifying Java development, will support AJAX via a component library. Version 2 is due in December, Sun officials said.

Tor Norbye, a Sun senior staff engineer in San Jose, Calif., said the company is looking to deliver tooling for AJAX that keeps to the ease-of-use promise of Java Studio Creator. "Where we think we can really innovate is how we can integrate it [AJAX] into the tools," Norbye said. "You see lots of Web apps that have more and more AJAX capabilities, like drag and drop and so forth. No one is doing it in the tools, so thats where I think we will be very competitive."

Norbye said that with the new tools support, developers can simply reference the new components and add as little as "three lines in your JSP [JavaServer Pages] file, and everything else is handled. Thats a very compelling technical solution for AJAX."

Norbye said Suns goal is to support rich Internet application development with Java Studio Creator 2.

Meanwhile, Microsofts Fitzgerald said his company also plans to deliver tools support for AJAX development.

"Microsoft is in the business of providing tools and infrastructure for developers, and this is an opportunity to make this style of development much easier and acceptable to a much broader set of people," Fitzgerald said. "So one of the things youll see in Visual Studio 2005 and ASP .Net 2.0 is [a] bunch of tools support for this class of applications." In addition, the Redmond, Wash., vendor unveiled a Web client framework that supports AJAX, code-named Atlas. Microsoft will deliver a preview of Atlas at its Professional Developers Conference in September, Fitzgerald said.

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For its part, TIBCO is "providing a general framework of APIs and a full tools suite for developers," said Kevin Hakman, director of product management at the Palo Alto, Calif., vendor. TIBCO General Interface 3.0, expected later this year, will give browser-based applications the features and performance of thick-client applications, Hakman said. TIBCO has launched an AJAX Accelerator Program that provides early access to the upcoming version.

"The TIBCO system allows us to implement AJAX technology without getting into all the details of implementation ourselves," said Alan Roter, vice president of informatics at Iconix Pharmaceuticals Inc., in Mountain View, Calif. "It provides a rich, robust, high-level model of all the user-interface components we need without our having to code all the JavaScript/XML/XSLT [Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations] ourselves. Their integrated development environment makes it easier for us to build AJAX GUIs than it is to build Java GUIs."

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