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Ajax developers are turning away from commercial development tools and opting for free, open source alternatives.

That's according to a recent Ajaxian poll that asked developers which Ajax tools they used either in development or in production.

Around 75 per cent are using Ajax tools in some form or another for either production or development - with the remainder at least using them in proof-of-concept projects.

While the idea of Ajax-style techniques as a way to improve web development has been around for a decade or more, it is only a couple of years since the term was applied to a specific range of scripting techniques and the tools to support them. The result is that what might be called the "market" for Ajax development is still relatively immature and this is reflected in the large number of tools, frameworks and libraries currently available - mostly free of charge.

The results of Ajaxian survey reflect this - listing around 240 Ajax aids of one sort or another.

Ajaxian acknowledges the survey is not necessarily representative, but it does provide some indication of the preferences in the Ajax community. The list does not, for example, discriminate between full-blown integrated development environments (IDEs) and simple libraries and many of the aids listed will be used in combination. Ajaxian notes that the number of tools is up from 170 in last year's list and from only 36 in 2005.

The majority of respondents use Ajax with PHP (46.5 per cent) with various manifestations of Java (27.6 per cent) in second place and the LAMP stack - that includes PHP - in third (18.9 per cent).

When it comes to Ajax tools it is remarkable - first - that there are so many apparently good tools available and, second, there are almost no commercial products. Free open source, it seems, rules in Ajax-based development.

While around 13 per cent of developers claim they do not currently use any tools, the vast majority use some combination of framework or library.

The clear leader used by more than 34 per cent of respondents is PrototypeJS, the object oriented framework linked with Ruby on Rails. The closely associated library script.aculo.us, was cited by just over 22 per cent. The jQuery JavaScript library is also in wide use with just under 30 per cent of developers listing it. The Extjs library is listed by 22.5 per cent. A couple of other library packs - YUI and JSON also made the top ten.

Other tool kits that appear popular include Mootools (14.3 per cent) and Dojo (11.9 per cent).

Surprisingly, Backbase the sole commercial product in the top ten was cited by only 8.3 per cent of respondents. Ajaxian notes that this is an improvement on its rating last year but still disappointing. Backbase is available free for up to two users, but requires a commercial licence for more in the same company.

Many of the tools mentioned in the survey are cited by only one or two respondents and the 240 listed are only the tip of what appears to be a very large iceberg. Yet more Ajax tools - mostly free - are listed here.

The popularity of free tools and libraries in this important area of development is a new phenomenon in the software market. In the past, newly-emerging areas of software development have been lucrative markets for tool builders but this appears to no longer hold true. It is yet more evidence of the relentless rise of free, open source software and another nail in the coffin of the traditional business model for software development.

The relatively poor showing for commercial vendors in the Ajaxian survey has not stopped at least one of them making a play for the Ajax developer's dollar. Following the completion of Ruby on Rails 2.0, JetBrains announced it has added Ruby support to its Java IDE.®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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