Microsoft Web 2.0 Developers Go Live with Atlas

Early users of Microsoft's Atlas AJAX development tool kick the tires and deliver production-quality output with a preview version of the upcoming product.

Microsoft is highlighting its upcoming tool for AJAX-style development, code-named Atlas, at its Mix conference in Las Vegas this week with the announcement of a new Community Technology Preview and Go-Live license for the technology. Some early Atlas users, meanwhile, have already shared their experiences with the tool with eWEEK.

Arthur Wait, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based independent Web design and application development consultant, said he has started to use Atlas on a Web site he developed for The Planning Shop, a book publisher in Palo Alto, Calif.

The site was originally developed for internal use to allow authors and the publishing company to both track the performance of their own books on and research the historical performance of competitive books and categories of books from other publishers, Wait said.

"We do this by downloading the Amazon Sales Rank for several hundred thousand books every night and store them in our database," he said. This site is now available to the public at

"A big part of our goal in releasing TitleZ publicly has been to make the site as usable as possible," Wait said. "There are other sales number tools out there for publishers [most notably, Nielsens BookScan], but in addition to being extremely expensive for smaller publishers, they are very difficult to use. To be useful and competitive, we felt we needed to provide an offering that would be easy and obvious, even for non-numbers-oriented people."

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read more about Microsofts announcement of its March CTP release of Atlas.

So, Wait said, he started integrating Atlas into the site recently, entirely for the purpose of enhancing usability. "Just about every call made to our server from TitleZ requires a trip to both our database and a trip out to Amazons Web service," he said. "Because this can be a relatively time-consuming process, weve done everything we can to make this feel as fast as possible.

"So we gather data incrementally—when a user runs a search, we return only high-level information about each book. Then, when they want further details on a particular title, we run a more elaborate search, build a chart, etc.

"Moreover, searches conducted on the TitleZ search page are now handled via Atlas without a page refresh," Wait said. And button clicks for "bookmarking" a title for later retrieval are also handled via Atlas, he said. "The result is a much snappier feel to the site, even though the back-end technology hasnt gotten any faster," Wait added.

Omar Al Zabir, a developer for, said he "started with the first preview of Atlas, which was quite enough for our personalized desktop— The feature we liked most was the ability to generate JavaScript classes out of Web service references. Atlas presented a very comfortable way to call server-side functions on the same page and methods on Web services. The page method call feature of Atlas especially made authenticated calls to the server a breeze. Pageflakes framework development became quite easier because of this feature.

"Another great thing we liked about Atlas was the ability to use its entire feature from JavaScript instead of using a declarative approach," he said. "Due to the nature of our framework, it was essential for us to use pure a JavaScript-based approach instead of a declarative approach and at that moment, Atlas was the one offering the features we needed."

Pageflakes is developed and operated by Friendix, of Ludwigsburg, Germany.

Al Zabir said Atlas greatest strength is its integration with Microsofts Visual Studio and ASP.Net 2.0. "Its really surprising how easily a really complex site can be developed using Atlas and ASP.Net 2.0 together," he said.

"Both offer great feature sets and integrate so well with each other that when we look at other AJAX [Asynchronous JavaScript and XML] tools in the market nowadays, we can clearly see it was a wise decision to choose Atlas for Pageflakes," he added. "Atlas greatest power is its ability to use a good portion of ASP.Net 2.0 features from the client side like authentication, profile, page method call, etc., and also some really useful client-side controls."

Wait agreed with Al Zabir about Atlas capabilities on the integration front.

"While there are lots of libraries out there that are making it easier to develop AJAX-oriented sites, Atlas is the first one Ive come across that integrates really well into existing sites—weve been able to start adding AJAX functionality to TitleZ without rewriting much of anything," Wait said. "This is extremely powerful. It also means that for new sites, I wont necessarily have to make a lot of AJAX-oriented design decisions up front. I know that Ill have flexibility with how I create my interfaces."

Next Page: Atlas "spans a range of capabilities."