Microsoft Late With Ajax – Still Anyone’s Game

Microsoft has just released its ASP .NET AJAX 1.0, a free tool that lets developers create standards-compliant Web applications based on Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML).

The most ubiquitous Ajax-based applications, for example, are Google Maps and Gmail, which let users interact with them without requiring the full browser page to refresh while they’re in use.

Microsoft’s Ajax entry, which was codenamed “Atlas” during development, primarily targets ASP .Net developers. It works with Visual Studio 2005, but also lets other developers build client-centric Web applications that integrate with any back-end data provider.

Lots of Ajax Choices

Even though Ajax is only a couple of years old, the Web-development world has been gaining new Ajax frameworks at a dizzying pace. There are at least a dozen free and robust frameworks, with another 150-plus esoteric options.

Choosing a well-supported framework can help a developer create interactive Web applications using JavaScript and XML libraries that hide complicated code as well as help provide cross-browser solutions.

While Microsoft is late to the game, it has two huge advantages the company can use to gain share: Internet Explorer (IE) and developer credibility.

“With 90 percent-plus market penetration in enterprise IT with Internet Explorer, Microsoft can work to make sure that any features they need or want are supported and shipped as part of future versions of IE,” Jeffrey Hammond, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, told LinuxInsider.

In addition, Hammond added, “Visual Studio has high penetration and credibility among professional developers. They can use this to reach out to the professional development community and provide a superior tooling experience.”

Keys for Microsoft

Perhaps the biggest play in Microsoft’s Ajax move will be its efforts at developer support. ASP .NET AJAX 1.0 is a fully supported Microsoft product, backed by a standard 10-year Microsoft support license, with Microsoft product support available via phone 24/7.

In addition to the fully supported release, developers can use the more than 30 free enabled controls available within the ASP.NET AJAX Control Toolkit, Scott Guthrie, a general manager within Microsoft’s developer division, points out in his blog. “The control toolkit is a shared-source collaborative project built together by a team containing both Microsoft and non-Microsoft developers,” he wrote.

Still, will Microsoft’s Ajax offerings lead to significant real-world use?

“Developers are the key battle ground for these technologies,” Forrester’s Hammond explained. “Microsoft has always realized that developer mindshare and ease of use are key to winning a platform battle. Given the general state of developer tools for Ajax and the fragmentation in frameworks, I think the market is still wide open, and it’s anyone’s game at this point.”

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