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Vendors unite on 'Open AJAX' initiative

But what's the point?

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A group of top industry vendors is set to announce a new community initiative aimed at popularising AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and Extensible Markup Language), the nickname given to a collection of software development tools and standards that help web applications mimic the speed and smoothness of desktop programs.

The initiative, dubbed Open AJAX, includes a glittery collection of major organisations in its supporting-member ranks. IBM, Google, BEA Systems, Oracle, Mozilla, Yahoo, Red Hat, Zimbra and the Eclipse Foundation are among the among the group's founders. What Open Ajax will actually do, though, remains unclear.

The group's stated mission is to promote AJAX as an open technology set that is compatible with any device, web browser and development tool set. AJAX is already standards-based essentially by definition; in the February 2005 essay that gave AJAX its name, Jesse James Garrett cited standards such as XML and CSS as core elements. The AJAX name covers an assortment of tools and technologies that have been around for years. Garrett's breakthrough was in identifying the way applications such as Google's Google Maps and Gmail use those technologies in concert to offer responsive, elegant functionality.

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Open AJAX doesn't hold meetings, and it has no official plans or philosophy. Instead, the group's members work together informally to further their shared goal of easing AJAX development.

"Part of Zimbra's motivation for participating in Open AJAX is to ensure that there is a winning AJAX platform in open source," said Zimbra President Scott Dietzen. He fears that AJAX work will be perverted by proprietary developers such as Microsoft Corp., which has its own AJAX-based programming framework, Atlas.

To encourage developers to work with AJAX, Zimbra has released an AJAX runtime toolkit under Apache and Mozilla public licences. The kit includes an object-oriented JavaScript class library, an event framework and communications tools.

When Zimbra began working with AJAX two years ago (before the name existed), it found few tools available to aid its developers. "Necessity being the mother of invention, we set out to solve some of those holes for our own applications," Dietzen said. "We ended up with a toolkit that we think is very broadly useful."

IBM is also publicly releasing some of its internally developed tools. IBM is contributing to the Eclipse Foundation an AJAX toolkit framework that supports multiple AJAX runtime toolkits.

IBM Vice President of Emerging Technologies Rod Smith echoed Dietzen's comment that developer tools are lagging developer interest. "[Open AJAX] is a consolidated development effort," he said. "We'll do better collectively working together toward AJAX than we can do individually."

Dietzen said his hope is that tools will advance to the point where web designers can join the AJAX development community without having the programming expertise now required for AJAX work.

"This is a great start. We have cut the complexity of authoring an AJAX application through the collective work of the participants. It's ten times easier than it was when we started down this path two years ago," Dietzen said. "I would like to see us make it two or three times easier still than it is now."



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