AJAX catching on at Microsoft, ClearNova

AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript plus XML) technology for building rich Web applications this week is getting a boost from Microsoft and ClearNova.

Microsoft at its Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles demonstrated its Atlas development software for AJAX-style programming. An early preview is now available. Using DHTML (Dynamic HTML) and asynchronous server communications, Atlas offers server-side extensions to ASP.Net and client-side scripting libraries in JavaScript that work on many browsers and platforms, according to a Microsoft representative. This is intended to make it easier to build rich Web experiences.

Microsoft is compelled to offer an AJAX solution, said analyst John Rymer, vice president of application development and infrastructure at Forrester Research.

"It fills a gap within their development environment. They didn't address AJAX at all," Rymer said. "I think a lot of people are overestimating AJAX, how valuable it's going to be. But a lot of people are using it, and Microsoft just had no answer."

He added that AJAX is just scripting. Although flexible and easy, it is difficult to maintain applications written with scripts because of a lack of structure, he said. "It's not a silver bullet."

ClearNova, however, is revamping its product around AJAX. The vendor is announcing its ThinkCAP JX (Complete Application Platform AJAX) environment. Previously, ThinkCAP did not support AJAX.

"[ThinkCAP JX is] basically a RAD (rapid application development) for building rich Internet applications with Java technology," said Steve Benfield, vice president of strategy at ClearNova.

AJAX offers benefits in page presentation, Benfield said. "Normal Web interfaces are just clunky. You've got to refresh the page all the time. AJAX eliminates that."

ThinkCAP includes a visual workbench for page development, an event model for different aspects of development, data-aware controls, visual effects and a page flow designer for point-and-click building of application flow. It can be integrated with the Eclipse open source development environment.

Also featured is integration with approximately 25 open source frameworks and engines, including Struts and Hibernate. Additionally, an API is included to ease the process of building AJAX functionality into Java systems.

An official at Panda Restaurant Group, which plans to use ThinkCAP JX, expressed mixed feelings about AJAX but favors ClearNova's product.

"Who wants to do AJAX programming? What a productivity nightmare," said Caleb Mitsvotai, executive director of development for the information systems group at Panda, in an e-mail. "However, the result of the technology is exciting. With ThinkCAP's component architecture, it's a natural fit for AJAX and I can AJAX-enable my current ThinkCAP applications by setting a property in the ThinkCAP.XML file. I don't have to code the AJAX client and server side Javascript, XML, and HTTP."

A public beta release of ThinkCAP JX is due at the end of the month. The general release of the product is planned for the fourth quarter of this year. Prices begin at US$2,500 for the ThinkCAP JX Workbench. For deploying applications, a server edition is required. The Enterprise Edition is priced at US$15,000 per production server; the more restrictive Community Edition -- for deploying to Tomcat, JBoss and the MySQL database -- will be available at no charge.

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