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With Microsoft's Atlas toolkit, no wait for Ajax controls

With two releases in the last month, the Atlas Control Toolkit is giving developers Ajax controls for ASP.NET apps long before Atlas is due for release. Soon developers will be able to submit their own controls as well.

The majority of development experts advocate an incremental approach to implementing Ajax functionality in Web applications.

Since the early days of building Visual Studio 2005, Microsoft has offered frequent versions of its key software tools, giving developers a chance to play around with the technology and send feedback to Redmond.

These two concepts are coming together with Microsoft's Atlas Control Toolkit.

Atlas, Microsoft's tool for incorporating Ajax into ASP.NET applications, debuted at PDC 2005 and is slated for general release with Orcas, the next version of Visual Studio. With the Atlas Control Toolkit, though, Microsoft is rolling out a few controls at a time -- nine in April and four so far in May. (For more details on these controls, read Atlas Control Toolkit: A large, open-source framework.)

Ajax, short for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, is based on the XMLHttpRequest, which allows a Web application to refresh without calling to a back-end server.

Periodic toolkit releases make it easier for developers to download and deploy the controls, try them out and ask questions, said Brian Goldfarb, product manager, Web Platform and Tools Group, Microsoft.

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"It would be difficult to pull [the toolkit] into the core kit and give [developers] what they need," Goldfarb said. "We're taking a chance here, and we think it's paying off already. It's been an amazing experience, with almost real-time communication with the users."

The toolkit is available here on Microsoft's Atlas site. Controls are ready to be plugged directly into existing ASP.NET applications and do not require hard-coding and JavaScript, Goldfarb said. In addition, the toolkit contains behavior extenders that attach to existing controls to, say, give them rounded corners.

The Atlas site also includes four discussion forums and a blog moderated by the Atlas group at Microsoft.

Goldfarb said the next step for the Atlas Control Toolkit is turning it into a shared-source "self-sustaining community" where developers submit their own Atlas controls.

"The toolkit is a great demonstration of the new openness coming form Microsoft," Goldfarb said. "The contribution model is really going to blow people away."

On one hand, feedback from the forums lets Microsoft know what controls developers are looking for and gives the Atlas group added flexibility when adding controls. On the other hand, community involvement will let the toolkit grow beyond what Microsoft could build on its own.

Atlas resources from Microsoft

  • Creating a basic Atlas application
  • Making JavaScript easier
  • Server class library
  • Client class library
  • Dig Deeper on ASP.NET and Ajax development

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