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ASP.NET Ajax components: Vendor roundtable -- Part 2

With the Ajax tool market flourishing, we enlisted the help of thought leaders in the Microsoft ecosystem of Ajax component providers to participate in a virtual roundtable discussing key trends in this space as Ajax moves from cool to commonplace.

With the Ajax tool market flourishing, enlisted the help of thought leaders in the ecosystem of Microsoft-related Ajax component providers to participate in a virtual roundtable discussing key trends in this space as Ajax moves from cool to commonplace. In this second session, our participants talk about the resurgence of JavaScript, XML-based Ajax vs. Ajax without XML, and the future of Ajax.

Participating are: Miljan Braticevic, president, ComponentArt Inc., Toronto; John Ayers, director of development, and John Juback, technology evangelist, ComponentOne; Joost Lubach, technical evangelist, Dundas Data Visualization Inc., Toronto; Ivo Nedkov, unit manager of the ASP.NET division at Telerik, Sofia Bulgaria (Newton, Mass. in the U.S.); and Anthony Lombardo, lead evangelist and Microsoft MVP, Infragistics Inc., Princeton, N.J. Did it surprise you to see what some might call a resurgence in JavaScript as part of the Ajax movement?

Joost Lubach: I would not necessarily call it a resurgence. I believe JavaScript has gradually become an essential part of Web applications. In ASP.NET for instance, it has been used for a while for client-side form validation. As end users are expecting more and more desktop-application-like behavior from Web pages, the increase of JavaScript usage—the only interactive element of a Web page -- seems to be quite logical. The "invention" of Ajax included only server-side processing within this interactive Web-application scheme.

Ivo Nedkov: It did not surprise us at all. We expected this resurgence and were looking forward to it. A lot of the functionality of our components is entirely based on the client and our customers need to write some (not much) JavaScript in order to use all the cool features everyone sees in desktop systems, such as drag-n-drop, resizing, reordering, binding to Web services, animations/transition effects, etc. Now with the great new JavaScript IntelliSense feature in Visual Studio 2008 things are much easier.

Anthony Lombardo: I'm not surprised that it happened. The more we shift to the client side the better experience for the end user, and less time waiting for all the communications to occur. It is interesting to see now that so many people have to work in the JavaScript environment, where before it was smaller segment and the thought was that maybe there is a better way to do it in the future. Now with Ajax taking hold it's time for everyone to jump into the pool and stop their dipping toes

Miljan Braticevic: It was surprising to an extent. A lot of people had written JavaScript off many years ago as an inferior language, but it is definitely back in a big way and it definitely has many advantages over other languages. We here are celebrating the comeback of JavaScript. We like the language and think it has a lot to offer, especially in combination with other elements of the browser, such as the whole client-side scripting model.

John Ayers: I'm not surprised; we have been doing JavaScript for a long time. If you want a really great user experience in the browser you have to use a lot of JavaScript. That is why there is a proliferation of Ajax frameworks out there. Any thoughts on XML-based Ajax versus Ajax without XML?

Joost Lubach: I have always believed that the "X" in Ajax was more or less a forced invention. I've never seen an Ajax implementation that actually uses pure XML for data transfer. Instead, the creators of the acronym have intended (X)HTML to be used for data transfer. Whereas this is most often the case, the actual data that is transferred through Ajax calls is not predefined. Nowadays, the popular data markup language JSON is used for pure data calls, while (X)HTML is used for presentation-related data. But I have to admit that AJAJ or AJAH is not as elegant as Ajax.

Anthony Lombardo: For me it seems more just developer preference. Many people don't want to do JavaScript, and, having a declarative way to do the same thing seems like a great idea, but there is a performance impact of ASP.NET extensions. If you take a performance hit it might not be the best for everyone. But looking at the trend in development—Silverlight, WPF, all going declarative -- I wouldn't be shocked if there was more declarative, so writing less code in a semantic format like JavaScript and more in a declarative fashion like XML.

From what I understand [performance] seems to be the biggest issue, and in early tests it is what we found as well. In certain cases it is OK, but in some cases like a grid with a large amount of data, you want to be as fast as can be. You can't use the nicer declarative model of doing things; you have to get down and dirty and write script. As machines get faster and browsers improve [that issue] could go away, and there would be a more negligible difference.

Miljan Braticevic: The alternative most common to XML is JavaScript Object Notation. JSON is easier to deal with in client-side calls and much more efficient space-wise. If you don't have a strong reason to use XML, I would use JSON. You will get better-performing applications and have less trouble parsing things on the client, and there are fewer security concerns on the server. Right now the Ajax tool market is flourishing, with both commercial and open source offerings. Do you think this sort of environment will continue to exist, or do you see the market undergoing any changes over the next couple years?

Ivo Nedkov: From our experience we can say that this environment will continue to exist at least for several years to come. The ASP.NET Ajax community [and] the Ajax community in general is growing every day, and there are a lot of people building great applications. A lot of developers are investing in Ajax projects and this will continue to be the main trend in Web development.

Miljan Braticevic: I think the market will continue to flourish. It is definitely a bet we are making with our continued investment in the market. There are interesting new things popping up like Silverlight and Adobe Air, and I predict that all will coexist in the next few years while Silverlight and Air mature. It will be several years before the majority of enterprise applications are written in non-Ajax platforms, namely Silverlight or Air.

John Ayers: I think there will be a new development environment. With Microsoft Silverlight, Flash and Flex, etc. I think it will really define what the next generation experience will be, but for early adopters. I think traditional Ajax and ASP.NET will be around for a while, but once you get really good tooling support and a third-party component market, I think the next generation is going to be Silverlight.

In Part 1 of our series, participants talk about the challenges of providing Ajax components, such as browser compatibility issues, the difficulties of JavaScript, and the impact on performance and user experience.

Part 3 focuses on the fate of the open-source community over the next few years.

For Additional Information: View the Ajax Learning Guide

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