The Latest Buzz

By Brian P. Watson  |  Posted 2007-02-02 Print this article Print

Say goodbye to the Web you know and hello to the Web you've always wanted. A variety of frameworks for building rich Internet applications are helping companies save time and money.


The newest add-on to ASP.NET has developers buzzing. For most, until a few years ago, the term "Ajax" recalled the household cleaner, the Amsterdam soccer team or, for the more astute, the Greek king in Homer's Iliad. Today, Ajax—short for Asynchronous JavaScript and eXtensible Markup Language, or XML—is a combination of markup and scripting languages for building Web applications that pass small amounts of data with a server, diminishing the need for a Web page to refresh.

Microsoft's ASP.NET Ajax—known to most by its code name, Atlas—is a free framework and toolkit for developing rich Web applications. The offering is one of the latest Ajax frameworks—around 130, to date—competing for market dominance. Experts believe consolidation is on its way, but until then, an abundance of options exist for technology managers and developers.

But Ajax is by no means a new technology. General Interface, acquired by Tibco Software in 2004, began offering an Ajax library in 2001. The combination of its core business—integration software—and Ajax helped Tibco secure Merrill Lynch as a customer.

Earlier this year, Ahmad Fahmy, now a London-based senior technical analyst for Merrill, helped lead a project Stateside to build a service-oriented architecture. One piece involved replacing the front end for a system that managed the firm's voluntary corporate actions—matters requiring shareholder participation, like tender offers or mergers.

Tibco's General Interface framework helped Fahmy and his team integrate the system with Web services, all while using a browser-based development environment. The team finished the interface in two months; without the Ajax library, Fahmy says, it could have taken 18 months.

Still, Fahmy says adjusting to the new technologies can be challenging. For one, developers can face a learning curve, since working inside the browser is a departure from other development environments.

Moreover, business user adoption could be slow. Technology-savvy users will love the new applications, Fahmy says, but less experienced workers might resist applications that have different controls and layouts. For example, some Ajax applications don't have a "back" button that takes a user to the previous page.

"They are going to look at this for the first time and say, 'What is this?'" Fahmy points out. "Things that have become second nature just aren't there."

Associate Editor

Brian joined Baseline in March 2006. In addition to previous stints at Inter@ctive Week and The Net Economy, he's written for The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., as well as The Sunday Tribune in Dublin, Ireland. Brian has a B.A. from Bucknell University and a master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.


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