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Microsoft's Dexterous Dance Toward Atlas

Ajax caught both the Java and Microsoft .Net communities by surprise as it swept through the ranks of Web developers. But Microsoft isn't backing off its Web application turf, even though pushed by upstarts like Exadel, Backbase, and Laszlo Systems.
Ajax caught both the Java and Microsoft .Net communities by surprise as it swept through the ranks of Web developers. But Microsoft isn't backing off its Web application turf, even though pushed by upstarts like Exadel, Backbase, and Laszlo Systems.Microsoft is working hard on its Atlas framework and showing a lot of dexterity in the process.

Microsoft introduced an early version of Atlas at its March 20-22 Mix Conference for Web developers in Las Vegas. It followed that up on April 12 with an Atlas Control Toolkit, loaded with prebuilt functions and available for free download here.

Borrowing a page from its open-source detractors, Microsoft has made Atlas updates available early and often in Community Technology Previews every four to six weeks since then, looking for feedback from users on how the first release of Atlas should shape up. It has also provided a Go Live license for early applications built with Atlas. They can be deployed without incurring license charges, provided the user understands that the technology remains unsupported in its early form.

All this activity is uncharacteristic of how new technologies have emerged from Microsoft in the past, although it adopted more of this approach as it brought its Visual Studio .Net tools to market.

Microsoft is showing impressive dexterity on Atlas because Ajax adoption is going on, spurred by prime competitors, whether Microsoft is ready or not. Google has put up Google Maps, and both Yahoo and Google have put up impressive Web Calendar and Mail applications. Such applications create stickiness for the host sites because they allow simple, individual interactions at a speed that feels more like a desktop application than a World Wide Wait application.

If Microsoft brings out its Atlas framework--a set of user interface functions and components with built-in ways of connecting them to other resources--as an easier way to build Windows-based Ajax apps, it will be transferring some of its strengths in desktop tools and applications to the Web.

At the same time, Microsoft has been forced to play catch-up. Those crafty open-source advocates at the Eclipse Foundation haven't missed a trick when it comes to encouraging Ajax in their camp. They've brought three promising Ajax toolkits inside the programmer's workbench and aim to set standards through OpenAjax.

OpenAjax will determine how Ajax toolkits can perform common functions in a predefined, shared way.

Ajax is deceptive because it relies on simple technologies that are already well-known, invoked in an asynchronous pattern. Nobody on the Web needs to know too much about what the other guy is doing for an Ajax application to shake hands with lots of users. Once again, the Web has taught us that simpler is better, and loosely synchronized interactions can get a lot more done when it comes to the masses than tightly synchronized ones. Microsoft through Atlas will illustrate that it's learned the lesson well.

For more information on Ajax under Windows, visit Microsoft's Atlas information page.

InformationWeek also offers guidance on Ajax 101, or how to bring Ajax into the enterprise.