Atlas Shrugged

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Atlas Shrugged

 

By Jonathan Goodyear

 

From the title of this column, you may think that I m going to give you a lesson on objectivism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ObjectivisM). Alas, it was just a play on the code name for the new AJAX initiative being developed by the Web Platform and Tools Team at Microsoft. You may remember the term AJAX from my June column, Postbacks from the Edge, in which I discussed the recent surge in the popularity of building asynchronous functionality into Web applications, as well as the release of an ASP.NET framework to support it.

 

It seems that Microsoft has noticed this trend as well, and has been working behind closed doors on its own AJAX framework implementation. Recently, Scott Guthrie broke the news on Project Atlas in his blog (http://weblogs.asp.net/scottgu/archive/2005/06/28/416185.aspx). As I mentioned in my previous column on AJAX, Microsoft has already baked asynchronous callbacks into ASP.NET v2.0 via its Client Callback Manager, but it is obvious that the implementation was not as complete as Microsoft would have hoped. The pressures of shipping software prevented it from reaching its potential. Project Atlas is going to remedy that situation as a post-RTM add-on to ASP.NET v2.0.

 

I won t list all of the Atlas Client Script Framework s (as it is currently being called) features here (you can visit Scott s blog for that), but some of the highlights are an extensible core framework, a base class library, a UI framework, a network stack that accesses Web services natively, and a browser compatibility layer. Microsoft will also be releasing a set of their own Atlas-enabled controls, such as an auto-complete textbox, a popup panel, animation, and drag-and-drop.

 

So what does this all mean for you and me as ASP.NET developers today? The reality is that we re not even going to get a taste of what Atlas can do until the Professional Developer s Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles in September. Even then, I predict that Atlas will still be pretty rough around the edges. Indeed, its goals are fairly lofty. A fully baked version will likely not appear until the first half of 2006, so if you re developing in a no-beta-zone, then Atlas is not going to be an option for you for awhile.

 

Given that Atlas is coming directly from Microsoft and appears to have a great integration story with complementary technologies like SharePoint, Indigo, and Outlook, your long-term vision should probably take you in that direction. However, there are other important factors to consider (especially in the short-run). First, it is very important to point out that Atlas is an ASP.NET v2.0 technology. For solutions built using Visual Studio 2003 and prior, you ll need to stick with a solution like Michael Schwartz s Ajax.NET Library (now available on SourceForge with complete source-code; http://sourceforge.net/projects/ajaxnet).

 

A second factor to consider is that because Atlas is a Microsoft-owned project, you ll be locked into their slower release cycle. This may not normally be a problem, but given AJAX s extensive use of JavaScript, I find it highly unlikely that there won t be at least a few cross-browser compatibility bugs. Browser compatibility is a nightmarish problem that is bigger than even Microsoft s rigorous regression tests can handle alone. The community surrounding an open source project like the Ajax.NET Library will probably be able to turn out fixes more quickly than Microsoft, although Microsoft can mitigate that factor if they keep their word by creating a robust customization/extensibility model for Atlas. If all else fails, I suppose you can always hack the Atlas .js files.

 

I m really excited that both Microsoft and the open source community are stepping up their support of AJAX, because I think that it is far too early to sunset the browser-based application paradigm. As a follow-up to my previous AJAX column, some third-party control vendors are getting into the game, as well. DART Communications has released its PowerWEB LiveControls suite as a commercially viable AJAX implementation (http://www.dart.com/powerweb/livecontrols.asp). My guess is that many more third-party control vendors will AJAX-enable their products using the Atlas Client Script Framework, and that level of standardization would be a good thing. Once I get my hands on Atlas at PDC and take it for a test drive, I ll report back on what I find. Until then, think asynchronously.

 

Jonathan Goodyear is president of ASPSoft (http://www.aspsoft.com), an Internet consulting firm based in Orlando, FL. Jonathan is Microsoft Regional Director for Florida, a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD), and author of Debugging ASP.NET (New Riders). Jonathan also is a contributing editor for asp.netPRO. E-mail him at mailto:[email protected] or through his angryCoder eZine at http://www.angryCoder.com.

 

 

 

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