Microsoft to debut Atlas development framework at PDC

Microsoft at PDC will debut a new object-oriented framework, codenamed Atlas, to simplify the development of client-side browser applications.

Microsoft will debut a new object-oriented framework aimed at simplifying the development of client-side browser applications at its annual PDC (Professional Developers Conference) in September.

The new framework, code-named Atlas, combines technology available in previous versions of Internet Explorer that allowed Web page updates to run in the background instead of making continuous calls to the server to refresh a page, said Charles Fitzgerald, general manager, platform strategy group for Microsoft.

Those technologies, DHTML (Dynamic Hypertext Markup Language) and HTTP XML (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Extensible Markup Language), provided the basis for what is called AJAX, or Asynchronous Javascript and XML, development, Fitzgerald said. This style of programming enables applications to be altered dynamically on a browser page without changing what happens on the server.

"The benefit of this style of development is you get more interactive, more responsive Web pages," Fitzgerald said. "Atlas is just a big chunk of standard Javascript code that lots of developers can incorporate into their Web applications so they can create a richer, more interactive user experience."

DHTML and HTTP XML first appeared in Internet Explorer in 1997, but the technologies did not take off among developers at the time, Fitzgerald said. Web application development is currently trending toward delivering rich user experiences filled with multimedia technologies, and Microsoft hopes Atlas will help take this kind of programming mainstream.

Microsoft will release a technology preview of Atlas at the PDC, which will be held in Los Angeles, Fitzgerald said. The full release will be available soon after, but he did not specify an exact time frame.

Developers will be able to use Visual Studio 2005, which is due to be generally available Nov. 8, to build and debug Ajax-enabled applications, Fitzgerald added.

Microsoft's discussion of Atlas comes the same week as Sun Microsystems is hosting its annual Java developer confab, JavaOne, in San Francisco. In fact, one of the technologies being touted at the show, the NetBeans open-source Java tools project, also is working on its own Ajax-style programming implementation.

Microsoft, however, is probably more concerned about what the Mozilla Foundation, which oversees the Firefox browser, is doing to support Ajax-style programming than the Java community's plans, said James Governor, analyst with London-based research firm RedMonk. The Firefox browser has been eating away at Internet Explorer's market share since its rollout last fall.

"[Atlas] is about the limitations around IE (Internet Explorer), and if Microsoft had kept innovating IE, they wouldn't be worried about it now," Governor said. "Firefox is where we're seeing Ajax development really stick. That's the platform people are increasingly going to write to, and Microsoft is worried about that as a development platform."

Microsoft also is keeping a wary eye on Adobe Systems Inc. since its purchase of Macromedia Inc. earlier this year. Macromedia has enabled media-rich, Web-based applications to run locally on the client via its Flash player for nearly two years, making the use of the browser unnecessary for such applications.

Fitzgerald said that applications leveraging Atlas will be compatible with any contemporary browser technology, not just IE.

He added that the incorporation of rich media functionality into browser-based applications through Ajax-style development competes with Macromedia's plans for Flash.

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