Following up on its flurry of MIX conferences in March, Microsoft is releasing its first toolkit for Project Atlas, its implementation of Ajax technology.
First announced last fall, Project Atlas is Microsoft’s response to hopping the Ajax bandwagon that emerged spontaneously last year. It’s a bandwagon that for now is driven mostly by collections of low level scripting tools and belated entry of giants like IBM and Tibco to impose order from above.
One of the ironies is that, with Dynamic HTML, Microsoft actually invented one of the technologies that became part of Ajax. At the time, Microsoft promoted DHTML as one of it weapons for killing Java on the client.
Over the past six months, Microsoft has unleashed several Community Technology Previews (CTPs) of the underlying Atlas framework itself, with the March version being the first that Microsoft was confident enough to proclaim ready for live production prototype.
The new Atlas toolkit includes several sample controls, extenders for customizing controls, and an SDK (software development kit) that simplifies the writing of Atlas controls or components.
Some of the controls included with the toolkit include cascading drop down menus, panels that can be collapsed or dragged, confirm buttons, hover and pop-up menus, and toggle buttons that can change a data checkbox into an image. And it provides helper classes that streamline the steps for customizing Atlas controls.
Along with announcement of the toolkit, Microsoft is releasing a sixth CTP of the Atlas framework, which fixes some of the bugs form the March version, and the Visual Studio 2005 version of the Web Application Project Template that first appeared with the previous 2003 version.
The new web app project template takes a more iterative approach than its predecessor. Instead of requiring waterfall-like processes for rolling all web components into a single library, the new version supports more iterative updating of web applications.
For Microsoft, Atlas represents a new product development model that focuses on more frequent community previews that are issued every 4-8 weeks. That’s due to the fact that Atlas is a grass roots phenomenon that Microsoft and other vendors are racing to catch up with, and because Atlas itself is not intended as a full-featured product like Visual Studio.
The popularity of Ajax is something that nobody planned for, conceded Brian Goldfarb, lead product manager for Microsoft’s Web Platform and Tools Group. Adding a positive spin, Goldfarb said that the unexpected grassroots push gave Microsoft an opportunity to try a more agile product development model.
For instance, they will extend shared source with designated developers, meaning Microsoft will accept some outside contributions to Atlas.
Admittedly, the official line from Microsoft is for formal release of the Atlas toolkit in conjunction with Orcas, the code name for the next Visual Studio release tentatively scheduled for 2007. In reality, Goldfarb’s group wants to get something out sooner and hopes to have something more definitive to say about it in a few months.