Eclipse: AJAX Needs an IDE

Experts discuss whether AJAX needs an integrated development environment and whether the Eclipse Foundation can help.

SANTA CLARA—The jury is still out as to how much help the Eclipse Foundation can be to AJAX developers.

In a March 7 session here entitled "What Does Eclipse Need to Do to Become the IDE for AJAX?" a panel of experts discussed their views of what Eclipse can do to improve Asynchronous JavaScript and XML development.

The Eclipse Foundation announced milestone releases in two AJAX-related Eclipse projects earlier the week of March 1—the ATF (AJAX Toolkit Framework) and the RAP (Rich AJAX Platform). However, the prospect of Eclipse becoming the integrated development environment for AJAX represents a more specific challenge.

Mike Milinkovich, executive director of Eclipse, moderated the panel, asking several questions, including whether AJAX even needs an IDE.

Eric Clayberg, vice president of development at Instantiations, in Portland, Ore., said he believes AJAX needs an IDE, and "Eclipse will make it a lot easier to do AJAX development."

Ingo Muschenetz, a developer with Aptana, in San Francisco, said the market for AJAX developers has been neglected in terms of IDE support, "but once AJAX gets tools it will change." Aptana builds a JavaScript-focused IDE for building dynamic Web applications. Muschenetz said, "We realized were not competing against other IDEs, were competing against text editors."

Robert Goodman, a software engineer in the Emerging Technologies division of the IBM Software Group and project leader of the ATF project, said he remembers "when Java first came out and all I used was a text editor [to write applications]. But once IDEs came out and became mature I moved to an IDE, and Ill never go back."

Similarly, Coach Wei, chief technology officer at Nexaweb Technologies, in Burlington, Mass., said he "for the longest time used text editors Vi and Emacs, but found that IDEs can be really helpful."

However, the Eclipse model might prove to be a bit much for some.

"Eclipse has an extensible foundation, but as an IDE its kind of daunting for this group," Muschenetz said of AJAX developers, who are more likely to be adept at JavaScript development than at Java.

Milinkovich also asked whether anyone took issue with the large number of AJAX tool kits and frameworks available to developers. Wei said that although there are several choices, he sees some clear winners. In terms of AJAX tooling, Wei said he believes the ATF is a winner; in terms of run-times Wei listed the Dojo Toolkit, Apache XAP (Extensible AJAX Platform),, and Prototype.

However, an audience member, Kyle Shank, a software engineering major at Rochester Institute of technology and creator of the open-source Ruby on Rails IDE RadRails, stood up and said he recommends that developers not focus on any particular AJAX framework.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read more about what Eclipse has been doing to support AJAX development.

"Committing yourself to any one framework or tool kit is very dangerous… I would caution everyone who is interested in AJAX not to focus on any one framework," Shank said, noting that he had worked on a major project that used Dojo, and the project went awry.

Meanwhile, Wei said the OpenAjax Alliance, a group of vendors that have banded together to help make AJAX development easier by producing standards in the area, has an IDE working group looking at interoperability issues. "From an IDE perspective, were trying to deal with the issue of so many tool kits," Wei said.

Goodman said if the OpenAjax Alliance is able to make inroads and deliver something "pluggable" then ATF would use that instead. Meanwhile, the ATF is working on the ATF Personality Framework. A "personality" is a collection of IDE features that are specifically targeted to a certain AJAX Runtime Library. This is a core concept of ATF: providing an extensible framework to support AJAX development in arbitrary AJAX run-times.

Goodman said a lot of complexity comes into the picture because "Were taking JavaScript from doing little scripts and growing it up into gigantic libraries."

Indeed, "JavaScript is one of the most difficult things to deal with, and to the extent that Eclipse can help make it easier, that is a good thing," Clayberg said.

The OpenAjax Alliance is trying to overcome some of those hurdles through cooperation. "Were trying to get the library vendors to make nice with each other," Muschenetz said.

Despite the challenges, the panelists said the goal of making AJAX development more manageable is well worth it.

"AJAX gives you desktop-like interaction from a browser," Goodman said.

"The reason to do AJAX is for those sexy, dynamic Web apps that companies like Google have taken the lead in delivering," Clayberg said.

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