TECH ED - Microsoft AJAX framework forges ahead

Microsoft's planned Atlas framework for AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) faces difficulty with its development, but promises to be a topnotch offering for the trendy Web scripting technique, a moderator of a TechEd 2006 session said on Wednesday.

One particular feature, Update Panel, is beset with reliability issues, according to moderator Jeff Prosise, co-founder of Microsoft partner Wintellect, a .Net consulting firm. Update Panel is an Atlas control that makes it easy to do incremental page refreshes.

Some tough decisions will need to be made pertaining to changes to Update Panel, said Prosise, who has been made privy to Atlas development at Microsoft. He declined to be more specific about these decisions, except to say that Update Panel will definitely be included in Atlas and that programmers are working on the issue.

"There's some very smart people trying to get that thing to work right now," Prosise said.

"[Update Panel is] an incredible piece of code but it doesn't always work. It'll work most of the time," said Prosise. Update Panel is not as efficient as hand-coding, but hand-coding takes much longer to do, he said.

Seeking feedback from the packed room of about 200 persons, Prosise said current plans call for Atlas to support several browsers: Internet Explorer 5 and higher-number versions, Mozilla Firefox, and Safari. The jury is still out on whether Opera will be supported. He asked if Opera support would be critical; a few persons raised their hands.

"The Atlas team, I can tell you firsthand, is very serious about browser compatibility," said Prosise.Â

Atlas is by no means the first AJAX framework but it has really clever code in it, he said. It features, among other things, improvements for working with JavaScript but does not displace the scripting language with Microsoft's own technology.

"Another big concern is that Microsoft is somehow co-opting JavaScript. They're not co-opting JavaScript. They're not co-opting in any way," said Prosise.

Atlas is a framework for AJAX programming on ASP.Net 2.0. Featured in Atlas is a set of server-side controls that look and function like ASP.Net controls familiar to Windows programmers, Prosise said.

Atlas makes JavaScript look like C#, leveraging functions that JavaScript normally does not such as classes, inheritance, and namespaces, said Prosise.

"The C#-like functionality is beneficial to JavaScript, according to Prosise. "I don't know about you, [but] I hate JavaScript. It's a horrible language," said Prosise. "It just feels like a toy" compared to what Prosise said he has used.

While it seems that ASP.Net and Atlas are in conflict because ASP.Net is server-based and Atlas pertains to the client, AJAX can feature HTTP calls back to the server, Prosise said. "In Microsoft's mind, there is no conflict," he said.

Atlas is due for release in the planned "Orcas" version of the Visual Studio developer platform, but Microsoft has set no firm ship date for that product. The company has said Orcas would ship some time after the planned January 2007 release of the Windows Vista operating system.

One plan under consideration for Atlas is enabling client calls from a Web service without requiring use of a Web server, said Prosise.

One audience member was pleased with this. "That's all I call is Web services," the audience member said. But another in the audience frowned on the idea.

"There are huge security implications. Why would you ever want to do that? That's terrible," he said.

Another in the audience expressed security concerns with AJAX in general, saying some turn off AJAX because of fears about logging of keystrokes and data.

"If you want to kill Atlas right now, just plant a story about an AJAX virus," Prosise responded.

After the session, Prosise said PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) and other non-ASP.Net developers also could take advantage of Atlas. But he was unaware if Microsoft was developing any framework similar to Atlas specifically intended for PHP or another non-ASP.Net language.

"I do know they would like to be friendly to PHP developers as well. Their framework is designed as such that a PHP developer could take advantage of it," said Prosise.

Aso at TechEd on Wednesday, a Microsoft official reiterated that Microsoft has no plans to offer an ESB (enterprise service bus) product. Instead, the company will continue to position its BizTalk Server business process management system and other products, such as Visual Studio and the SQL Server database, as offering ESB functionality. ESBs are commonly used for message-passing in Web services environments.

"The simple answer [to the question of whether Microsoft will release an ESB] is no. We won't because we do believe our current products and technologies offer pretty much a superset of ESB technologies," said the official, Lukas Cudrigh, a Microsoft technology strategist.

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