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Atlas means 'Ajax for the masses'

Next week, Microsoft is expected to unveil its Atlas project for creating Asynchronous JavaScript And XML (AJAX) messages. The goal: To bring AJAX to non-rocket scientists.

Indications are that Microsoft next week will unveil a major upgrade to the AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) technology, code-named Atlas, at its Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles.

Microsoft AJAX is a Web client programming style that receives data into a hidden client frame and uses JavaScript to format and manipulate the display of content in the active window. This enables programmers to create more dynamic front ends because the browser does not have to reload the entire Web page to display changes.

Applications using AJAX-style technology can run asynchronously; that is, requests to the server can be issued while the user interacts with the application in the active window.

Right now, much of the buzz around AJAX centers on its advantages: snappier response times, richer graphic elements in the browser and automatic updates without requiring the user to refresh the page and the ability to personalize the browser experience.

But AJAX still incurs one big challenge -- it requires significant programming skills. JavaScript is fairly straightforward technology. But getting the right mix of XML and JavaScript on the client is not so simple.

"AJAX technologies offer degrees of better user experience," said Brian Goldfarb, product manager in the Web Platform and Tools group, Microsoft. "However, to provide that rich user experience is pretty much rocket science." The promise of Atlas, he noted, is that it will simplify the development of AJAX-style applications so that they can be created by a much wider base of developers.

"The goal of the ASP.NET Atlas technologies, including the client script framework, is to enable the masses of developers to more easily write AJAX-style applications," Goldfarb said.

Today, Goldfarb noted, doing asynchronous data transfer, manipulating the DOM or understanding DHTML in a deep way are complex development tasks. With Atlas, he said, "developers will have pre-built constructs such as client-side controls that encapsulate common functionality and have a rich client-side framework to manage complex tasks like data retrieval via Web services, DOM manipulation and standard behaviors."

With Atlas, developers can do these complex tasks with much less code, and fewer difficult concepts to master, Goldfarb said.

AJAX has gained traction in the Java world, but the underlying AJAX technologies themselves were developed by Microsoft eight years ago. Microsoft used DHTML and was building AJAX prototype applications as early as 1998. Only recently has the need to improve the user experience become important for businesses that rely heavily on their Web presence to interact with customers. And that has renewed interest in AJAX.

Signs point to a developer prototype of the Atlas framework at PDC, but Microsoft has not announced a delivery vehicle or a timeframe beyond that. At this point, no one outside of Microsoft has seen Atlas.

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