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Web applications are sexy these days; well, the idea of a web application is sexy, partly because the web itself is sexy. Nevertheless, frequently the “user experience” associated with an actual web application is a bit clunky, not at all sexy, compared to the richness possible in a boring old desktop application.

So, there are moves afoot to address this. Macromedia Flex provides the richness of a desktop application; and Microsoft has its Smart Client (see the Smart Client Architecture and Design Guide here).

But the lead in the web development fashion stakes now appears to be Ajax, which is a new approach to web applications, according to Jesse James Garrett, a founder and director of the User Experience Strategy at Adaptive Path.

Kevin Hakman, of TIBCO software product marketing, however, claims that TIBCO’s General Interface (GI) is already a mature technology in this space, in use in Fortune 500 companies since 2001, and that TIBCO “has been offering AJAX in the enterprise long before the term was coined”.

Even though Microsoft uses Ajax to spice up its ASP.Net applications (see MSDN article here, and the Ajax.net website), Hakman claims that Microsoft’s Ajax platform (part of which is codenamed Atlas) isn’t generally available and is strongly tied to .NET anyway. Similarly, Macromedia’s Flex initiative, he says, is very much aligned with J2EE (and Flash requires extra technology beyond the standard browser). TIBCO’s GI “is actually a serverless technology and can therefore be used with .NET backends, J2EE backends, AS400 backends, whatever you want”.

There are some technical issues to consider. You need to handle the browser “back button” sensibly (legacy desktop applications tend not to have this “back and forth” concept), but Javascript can trap this and GI provides facilities to help with tracking where you are. And, if you disable Javascript (for security, perhaps) then you have AAX - that sounds like "axe" and pretty much indicates what'll happen to your AJAX application, as Hakman points out; but there are ways to deal with Javascript (and GI doesn’t make you specially enable any Active-X controls, although it uses some).

"Ajax" seems not to be an acronym (which is why we don’t use upper case for it; although TIBCO does), but merely an aide-memoire to a set of standards-based technologies (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML; plus DHTML etc) used to build rich web applications: XHTML and CSS standards are used for presentation; DOM (Document Object Model) is used for dynamic interaction; XML and XSLT are used for data manipulation and exchange; XMLHttpRequest is used to retrieve data asynchronously; and JavaScript holds it all together.

Now, TIBCO claims to have made this technology available to everyone, although (as it is so standards-based) perhaps it is already available to everyone. What TIBCO is talking about is the release of version 3.1 (Professional Edition) of its TIBCO General Interface (GI), a mature, enterprise-strength development platform, with enhanced features and a new licensing and pricing model. TIBCO General Interface is made up of TIBCO General Interface Framework and TIBCO General Interface Builder.

GI is already well-established (a corporate dashboard at Ford Motors is built using it) but now developers need pay nothing to develop, test or deploy Ajax applications publicly (for non-public deployments, TIBCO offers licenses starting at $499 for small user groups). Hakman claims that "TIBCO is one of the only companies to provide developers with a virtually risk-free, enterprise-tested product".®

Download the TIBCO General Interface Professional Edition here.

David Norfolk is the author of IT Governance, published by Thorogood. More details here.

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