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The Misfit Geek and AJAX acceptability

Microsoft strategy explained

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If you had any doubts about just how far Ajax has come, you had only take a look at the speakers list for the recent AJAXWorld Conference in Santa Clara, California.

Joining the faithful such as Sun Microsystems distinguished engineer and chief technology officer (CTO) Bob Brewin, was the executive responsible for setting database giant Oracle's tools strategy Ted Farrell along with Microsoft senior program manager - and confirmed El Reg fan - Joe Stagner, who both talked about Web 2.0, Rich Internet Application (RIAs), and the asynchronous JavaScript and XML combo that's become the bell of the Web-app-development ball.

Had they come to praise AJAX or to bury it, paying homage yet subtly trying to persuade developers that their chosen programming framework is the one true path?

Farrell we already covered, saying if you want to get serious you're better off using JavaServer Faces (JSF). Funny enough, that's Oracle's chosen technology.

Microsoft's Stagner (pictured) took a different tack, explaining not just Microsoft's approach to AJAX, but - in a come to Jesus moment - the problems Microsoft experienced in building out an AJAX strategy and framework.

Microsoft's Opinionated Misfit Geek (yes, that really is his chosen title) made fun of his employer's struggle with product naming: because of trademark issues Microsoft's "Atlas" has been clunkily renamed "Microsoft ASP.NET 2.0 Extensions for AJAX."

He summed up Microsoft's AJAX strategy thusly: "We approach our AJAX stack with a clear-but-symbiotic distinction between the client-side functionality and programming model and the server-side functionality and programming model." Right.

Jo Stagner

Microsoft has experienced problems in building that strategy, though, due to the fact its developers came to Web development with the first version of ASP.NET, which was based on a Web form-driven development model.

"They never had to learn about the Web gook that happens under the covers. They didn't have to write HTML or JavaScript by hand. They didn't have to learn much about stateless protocols like HTTP, because, since the birth of the World Wide Web, companies like Microsoft have figured out how to add state to an innately stateless protocol," Stagner said.

"[With these tools] we wanted to provide a programming model for ASP.NET developers that would let them continue to work from that perspective, but without preventing those developers who needed to get under the covers to do the detail work from getting access to that technology."

Microsoft's ASP.NET 2.0 Extensions for AJAX is a free framework designed for development of what Microsoft calls "Web experiences" that work across the most popular browsers. Essentially, it brings ASP.NET coding techniques to the client side. It consists of the AJAX Client Library, ASP.NET AJAX Control Toolkit, ASP.NET AJAX Futures Community Technology Preview (CTP), and the Codeplex.com Additions.

According to Stagner, one of the early problems with the framework was a misunderstanding about the control toolkit.

"The original idea was that we were just going to add this framework to AJAX," Stagner told session attendees, "so that folks like you could take the common problems you solve every day and commoditize them into controls that you could pass around to your fellow developers. Our team built the framework, and then to prove the framework they build a dozen controls.

"A lot of people who download the toolkit think the toolkit is those controls. But they were just meant to be a demonstration. The guts of the toolkit effort was the framework. Because all of this stuff is open source, you now see less of the controls working their way into the toolkit are written by guys from Microsoft," Stagner said.®

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