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Microsoft unleashes Atlas at MIX06

Atlas, Microsoft's tool for merging Ajax and ASP.NET technology, is now available as a CTP. A report from MIX06 in Las Vegas.

[LAS VEGAS] -- Microsoft announced the CTP and Go-Live license for Atlas, its latest Web application development tool, today at the company's first MIX06 conference.

The Community Technical Preview is a significant milestone for Atlas, said Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates during the keynote address at MIX06. "We think that it will really push you to a new level," he told a crowd that included both Web page designers and Web site developers.

The Atlas CTP is available here. Atlas is due to ship with Orcas, the next version of Visual Studio. Each subsequent CTP of the technology will include a Go Live license, according to Microsoft.

Atlas is Microsoft's latest take on Ajax, or Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, a method that can provide a better computing experience for Web users. With Ajax, a Web application refreshes only the data on a page that is changing, not the entire stage. Client-server traffic can be more efficient, allowing the entire Web app to perform better. With Atlas, Microsoft more formally brings Ajax-style design into its ASP.NET environment.

"Doing [the refreshes] well is very important," Gates said. "After all, this is asynchronous, and you don't want the user to see complicated exchanges going on in the background."

The status quo for Web applications is a "request and response" framework that forces workers to wait periodically, said Keith Smith, senior product manager, Web platforms and tools, Microsoft.

With a low-impact implementation of Atlas, Smith said, a user's request back to the server -- say, to view a product summary -- does not halt or disrupt their experience. Going further with Ajax, Smith continued, "a Web app acts like a rich-client app, everything is multi-threaded and you can harness the full power of the local PC."

Though Ajax has garnered tremendous attention in the last year, Microsoft has been using this scripting and dynamic HTML technology since the late 1990s, when it was included in Outlook Web Access.

Microsoft's Go Live releases traditionally have come near the Beta 2 release, when a product is close to shipping. However the Atlas CTP arrives early in the product's development life cycle. Atlas is slated for general release later this year. "We want to get bits into the customer's hands as quickly as possible," Smith said.

Companies that have already rolled out Atlas-based Web applications include Squeet.com, a subscription-based RSS service; Title-Z, a site that allows book authors and publishers to track data about their titles, and PageFlakes.com, a digital dashboard. Each site was featured in a demo during the day's keynote.

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