Microsoft And Eclipse: A Showdown For Ajax Leadership

Dueling Ajax efforts could determine who controls the user interface for interactive Web applications.
But Microsoft won't ship Atlas until it releases the next version of Visual Studio, called Orcas, and that's still several years away. Meanwhile, Eclipse is capitalizing now on the proliferation of Ajax toolkits.

Microsoft has the advantage of being able to tightly integrate its tools with Windows, its SQL Server database, and other software. Indeed, IBM donated Eclipse's core workbench technology as open source code because it wants Java tools to have a level of integration similar to Microsoft's.

"As an integrated development environment, Eclipse will make it easier to write Ajax applications," says Greg Stein, a manager of engineering at Google and chairman of the Apache Software Foundation, sponsor of the Apache Web server and other projects. Jochen Krause, managing director at Innoopract, a small German software company that proposed the Rich Ajax Platform project, predicts the platform "will extend Eclipse to play in a different space: interactive Web applications."

Simple's better

Businesses could use that help. They need the simplicity that would come from toolkits that do away with the need for specialized JavaScript knowledge and let developers work within Eclipse's conventions, which are familiar to thousands of C, C++, Cobol, Java, and PHP programmers. "We have some applications that would benefit from being more responsive, better online interactions," says Danny D'Amours, computer systems officer at the National Research Council Canada. With Eclipse's Ajax framework project, "Ajax will become integrated as part of the Eclipse development environment," he says.

Would D'Amours consider using Microsoft Atlas? "At-what?" he says with mock incredulity. Yes, the tensions between Microsoft and non-Microsoft camps remain very much alive, though businesses often use both Visual Studio tools and Eclipse-based tools, and likely will with Ajax and Web apps, too.

Using Ajax, companies can soup up their Web sites, letting users scroll through large amounts of information or drag and drop items into a shopping cart or configure products online without constantly refreshing the page. It's not just the Googles of the world using it: Companies including Lands' End and Volvo have used Ajax to let potential customers design outfits or cars, and Sabre Holdings has used it to cut down response times on flight-scheduling software that its airline customers use.

The standards are being set by the Web inno-vators. But everyone's going to have to live up to them.

--with Aaron Ricadela