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2/2/2006
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IBM Rounds Up Support For 'Standard' Ajax Environment

Google, Oracle, and Yahoo are among the backers of an effort to allow developers to work with Ajax on the Eclipse programmer's workbench.

Ajax is becoming popular for building interactive Web applications, so much so that a group of vendors is trying to ensure it gets implemented uniformly.

Ajax is shorthand for asynchronous JavaScript and XML, a combination of standard technologies that allows a Web application to interact with a user without constantly downloading HTML pages.

With Ajax, active parts of the page seek more data from an Internet server or validate data entered by a user, without requiring the user to stare at an hourglass symbol as the page goes back to a server. Google Maps is based on Ajax. The map fills out in the direction of the user's cursor movement because Ajax is detecting the movement and downloading more data from the map server, without the user specifically requesting it.

Google had to invest heavily to get Maps to perform consistently across different browser windows. That's why Google and others backed IBM last week when it announced it was donating software that will allow developers to work with Ajax on the Eclipse programmer's workbench. In effect, code developed with Rico, Dojo, or Zimbra, three popular Ajax toolkits, can be imported into Eclipse, run there for review and inspection purposes, debugged, and made ready as part of a larger Web application.

IBM's move is called Open Ajax and it's backed by BEA Systems, Borland Software, Google, Laszlo Systems, Openwave Systems, Oracle, Mozilla, Novell, Red Hat, Yahoo, Zend Technologies, and Zimbra. The "open" nomenclature, often used with open-source code standards, is not an exact fit, since Ajax is already based on existing standards for JavaScript (set by the European standards body, ECMA) and XML.

But as David Temkin, CTO of Laszlo Systems says, "While Ajax is based on standards, the toolkits themselves are implemented differently." What IBM has done is generate a framework or runtime environment for Eclipse that can take the output from recognized toolkits, run it inside Eclipse, and debug it there.

Eclipse itself is open-source code, so IBM's donated software for running Ajax code is likely to be held as the standard environment in which the output from an Ajax tool must be able to run. If Open Ajax reaches that status, the industry will have a way of measuring departures from standard Ajax and guarding against the possibility of Ajax being implemented in a proprietary or Windows-specific way.

Microsoft has a set of interactive Web technologies, including Ajax, bundled together into what it calls Atlas. "They build it [Atlas] using their own extensions" rather than sticking to strictly Ajax conventions, says David Boloker, IBM's CTO of emerging technology.

By giving Ajax "a common tooling," or Eclipse test platform where different Ajax code can be tested in one runtime environment, IBM is offering a workbench where proprietary extensions will stick out as not working with other people's Ajax.

Boloker said it will be easy to add more Ajax toolkits to the first three, Rico, Zimbra and Dojo. Once finished inside Eclipse, the Ajax code from any of the toolkits should run across Microsoft Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera Software's Opera browsers, supposedly without a hitch, says Boloker.

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