Open Ajax initiative gives open source boost to popular Web technology

A consortium of powerful IT companies banded together this week to promote a universally open Ajax technology they believe will change Web servers forever.

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IBM led the parade Wednesday when it was announced that a consortium of technology vendors had formed a new initiative based on asynchronous JavaScript and XML (Ajax).

The initial supporting members of the initiative -- called Open Ajax -- include BEA Systems Inc., Eclipse Foundation, IBM, Mozilla Corp., Novell Inc., Oracle Corp., Red Hat Inc., Yahoo and Zend Technologies Ltd. Each member has pledged to promote Ajax using a stable of their own open source tools and projects.

Ajax makes it unnecessary to manually refresh a Web browser to send or receive information over the Web. Instead, the information is updated and available on demand, allowing you to drag, drop or input information and get a response without refreshing the browser.

Real-world examples of Ajax include Google Maps and MyYahoo! Both sites allow users to manipulate and reshuffle windows in real time.

A release from IBM on the Open Ajax initiative said the group intends to promote Ajax's promise of universal compatibility with any computer device, application, desktop or operating system, and its easy incorporation into new and existing software programs.

Timing is everything

The announcement could not have arrived at a better time for Ajax , which in 2005 had enjoyed a modest bounce in popularity amongst Web services experts and developers -- even the vendors that did not sign on with Open Ajax.

Two such companies, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems Inc., announced plans in December to integrate Ajax-based technologies into their Atlas and Java Server Faces enterprise products, respectively.

Members of the Open Ajax initiative said they had already implemented the technology within their own applications and that the development of the technology should remain open and community based.

More on Ajax:

Why Microsoft and Google are cleaning up with Ajax

Vendors look to Ajax for SOA shine

"Ajax is gaining popularity because it enables compelling user interfaces on the Web," said Andi Gutmans, a key contributor to the open source scripting language PHP and co-founder of Zend Technologies. Zend is an open source company that provides products and services for developing and deploying PHP applications. "We fully support this initiative and believe that it ensures that Ajax remains open and driven by community innovation," said Gutmans.

A successful Ajax is an open Ajax

Scott Dietzen, the president and CTO of San Mateo, Calif.-based Zimbra Inc., said Ajax was off to a great start, but cautioned that there are dangers in allowing it to become a one browser, one operating system technology.

"Ajax will only achieve its potential if it remains a multi-browser, multi-client, multi-server and multi-tool Web standard," he said. "Open source Ajax widget toolkits like Zimbra's and open source Ajax authoring environments, like the IBM-proposed Eclipse extensions, are the best way to protect Ajax investments today and to ensure continuing innovation tomorrow."

Ajax is a type of "rich Internet application." It enables a wide range of new Web innovations, including:

  • Allowing users to scroll through photographs or a virtual map without refreshing their browser screens. It can also enable calendars to pop up when a user drags his cursor over a date in an e-mail.
  • Determining, on the fly, that information typed into a Web screen is appropriate -- such as when entering information on an order form.
  • Dragging and dropping objects inside a Web browser, which is similar to the capability available on computer desktops to move folders and documents around.
  • A rich set of buttons, icons, scroll bars, menus and widgets that can ease and speed navigation and simplify information retrieval.

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