IBM plays AJAX wiki business

Terms like AJAX and wiki may be associated with cutting-edge Web development, but IBM is using both technologies to develop next-generation business applications.

Short for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, AJAX is used to describe interactive Web applications which retrieve data from the server more transparently, while wiki is a term given to collaborative Web portals which can be edited by many users.

IBM Fellow and vice president of the emerging Internet technology group, Rod Smith believes while AJAX is not a "silver bullet", enterprises will begin to offer it "incrementally to what their Web sites are today".

Smith said that since browsers became pervasive people want a better experience, but don't want to sacrifice the browser's reach. "AJAX has been around for a while and Google has pushed its limits," he said, adding IBM uses it for its portal software.

Smith's team focuses on the areas of rich Internet applications (RIA), DIY content, and scripting languages, with PHP of particular interest. He describes these as all significant industry trends which need to be looked at for IBM's future products.

"PHP has a great community and people can find good community support," he said. Smith said wikis are used in open source projects as collaboration tools and companies have expanded this to make it an application platform.

The group's chief technology officer David Boloker demonstrated how IBM is combining these technologies to build Web-based business applications. "A wiki is about publishing information, [then] we started to see application models on wikis and new types of wiki commands and now we have gone a step further," Boloker said.

The team has created an application on top of a wiki using an imaginary hardware company as an example. The chain has four stores in different geographies across the US and the wiki is used to integrate mapping, weather, and ERP information to the extent of seeing how stores in the colder states are selling more heaters than those in warmer areas. Supply chain systems can therefore act upon any likely product shortage.

The wiki supports drag-and-drop so a store in the list can be dragged onto a frame housing a live Google Maps feed and a query will be lodged automatically returning the location of the store.

"Click on the store to get a list of hot items which could be from an RSS feed or backend SAP system," Boloker said. "Systems can be automated with Web services or triggered off by a rain warning event to send more pumps to a nearby store."

The wiki uses free data and marries it with enterprise systems on the back-end. Built with open source tools including PHP and the Rico AJAX toolkit, the wiki is updated with a Web-based rich text editor which IBM built from scratch and could be used for online word processing.

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