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Silverlight, Ajax components require different approach to UI

Ajax components and Silverlight components aren't just different in their underlying technologies, according to UI components vendor Infragistics. Users also expect a different look and feel depending on which technology they're using.

The announcement of new ASP.NET and Silverlight packages from Infragistics, a user interface components vendor, highlights two somewhat divergent directions that modern Web apps are taking. Developers should make note not just of what those directions are, but what they mean for the UIs they design.

In one direction, ASP.NET cranks out Ajax-powered HTML pages that represent a staying of the course that built Web 2.0. In the other direction, Silverlight-based rich internet applications (RIAs) do away with HTML and are essentially turning the Web into a deployment channel for more or less traditional software.

Each method has its advantages and disadvantages, said Anthony Lombardo, lead evangelist at Infragistics and Microsoft MVP. Ajax pages can give developers nearly universal reach but limit UI options; RIAs require users to install a browser plug-in but give developers access to more powerful programming tools and UI components.

The ante and payoff is even higher with RIAs that use Silverlight instead of Adobe's Flash. Silverlight isn't as ubiquitously installed as Flash, but Silverlight apps can be written in any .NET language -- Flash programs have to use ActionScript, a JavaScript-like language.

Once you decide which approach to take, it's important to tailor your UI accordingly, Lombardo said. Users' expectations for standard Web pages (including Ajax-enabled pages) differ from what they expect of a RIA application, he said. Those components, and the research behind the UI, are what Infragistics brings to the table.

For instance, Infragistics' Silverlight component for tables pulls data as it's needed and presents the user with a single, scrollable table similar to what they would see in a traditional desktop application. The equivalent component in the ASP.NET package paginates the table and lets users see the next or previous page, as they'd expect from a standard HTML + Ajax page.

RIAs haven't been around as long as Web pages, and they're earlier in the adoption curve. But Lombardo said Infragistics is already seeing a lot of demand for line of business controls, especially from financial companies.

"In a perfect world we would have Excel in every application that we could build. That's basically what users want," he said.

Infragistics' Aikido framework for ASP.NET and its line of business Silverlight components are available as community technology previews (CTPs). The company expects to ship Aikido in the first quarter of 2009 and the Silverlight components in the second quarter.

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