Vendors spread the AJAX gospel

Users who helped spur the growth of Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) programming techniques through grass-roots efforts welcomed last week's news that several top vendors have joined forces to promote it to the open-source community.

As part of the Open AJAX initiative, IBM, BEA Systems, Borland Software, Novell, Oracle, Red Hat and other vendors will contribute code for open-source AJAX tools and promote their use for building so-called rich Internet applications.

Many developers follow the AJAX programming method, which uses JavaScript within the client, to build applications that don't need to refresh a Web page every time a user enters or receives new data.

T.N. Subramaniam, director of technology at RouteOne said standard, reusable open-source AJAX tools and support for the programming technique from major vendors would benefit his company's software development efforts.

RouteOne, a joint venture of the finance arms of Daimler-Chrysler, Ford Motor Co., General Motors and Toyota Motor, manages Web-based processing of credit applications.

The company's developers use AJAX to build Web-based applications whose calculations and business rules depend heavily on what the user enters on the screen, said Subramaniam.

Such applications require a technique like AJAX, and work on them can be eased further with AJAX tools, he said. "I'm sure an AJAX counterpart to a popular [open-source development] framework like Struts will increase adoption in the long run," he said.

Likewise, Scott Spencer, vice president of engineering at First American Real Estate Solutions LP, said he expects open-source AJAX tools to make it easier for developers at the Anaheim, California-based company to build applications using the programming technique.

First American, which collects and provides access to real estate property records, plans to use AJAX this year to update a mapping service that it uses with its real estate applications. "This will result in a cleaner and easier-to-navigate user interface for our customers," Spencer said.

Tony Baer, an analyst at New York-based OnStrategies, said the creation of the Open AJAX coalition signals that grass-roots growth of AJAX among developers has gained enough momentum to force vendors to take notice.

"[AJAX] has taken on a life of its own," he said. "It was a train leaving the station with or without [vendors]."

Microsoft upped the AJAX ante last year when it said it would support the technique as an alternative to Windows Presentation Foundation, its Vista rich client, Baer said.

"There was a genuine fear that Microsoft could eventually just co-opt this technology and add its own extensions, which would ruin one the beauties of AJAX -- it runs on every browser," Baer added.

IBM plans to propose to the Open AJAX group that its AJAX Toolkit Framework be contributed to The Eclipse Foundation and to Mozilla, which oversees development of the open-source Firefox Web browser, said Rod Smith, vice president of emerging technologies at IBM.

IBM's framework supports multiple AJAX runtime tools and can be used to develop and debug applications. In addition, Zimbra, another member of the collaborative, said it will make its AJAX runtime tool kit available to the community under Apache and Mozilla public licenses.

The remaining members of the Open AJAX group include the Dojo Foundation, Google, the Eclipse Foundation, Laszlo Systems, Mozilla, Openwave Systems, Yahoo and Zend Technologies.

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