IBM Corp and a dozen others will today announce an open source Ajax project to unify what’s been the popular technology’s Achilles Heel: the lack of common tooling.
The project, called Open Ajax, aims to create a single framework that standardizes development and debugging on a common library of Ajax widgets that could run on multiple Ajax runtimes.
Like J2EE before it, Open Ajax is all about assembling critical mass convergence around a stack to prevent Microsoft from co-opting it. And, like Linux before it, it’s about vendors trying to hop a train that was already leaving the station with or without their support.
Besides IBM, which instigated the project, Open Ajax is endorsed by BEA, Borland, the Dojo Foundation, Eclipse Foundation, Google, Laszlo Systems, Mozilla, Novell, Openwave, Oracle, Red Hat, Yahoo, Zend, and Zimbra.
Conspicuously missing is Tibco Software Inc, whose General Interface provides its own framework for generating Ajax clients. Tibco is set to announce its own strategy next week.
The goal of Open Ajax is to standardize around a common set of widgets, interfaces, and plug-ins to Eclipse so it can morph into an industrial strength rich web development environment. And with the standards, any Eclipse-compliant Ajax toolkit should be able to plug into any compliant Ajax run time, regardless of browser client or server deployment platform.
In effect, Open Ajax is intended to provide tools developers a common target to develop against. By providing a common technology base, it could stimulate an enterprise tools market, just as J2EE did for Java. In so doing, it creates the opportunity to build a critical mass skills base, which further entrenches the technology into the mainstream.
Having a standard way of writing Ajax applications means we can bring a lot of our own work into Eclipse, said Andi Gutmann, CEO of Zend, which provides PHP scripting tools.
In Ajax’s case, there is little need to spur emergence of a market, because the market is already there. In most cases, it’s been a situation of web developers taking the laws into their own hands, a strategy that Google Maps legitimized.
So the first step is bringing order to the chaos, maintains Scott Dietzen, a J2EE veteran who is currently CTO of Zimbra, an email startup heavily reliant on Ajax clients.
Somebody counted over 70 [Ajax] toolkits, including proprietary and open source, said Dietzen, who maintains that the variations must get winnowed down. In open source, we have to pick a small number of those and concentrate our investment there.
But with battle lines drawing on the future of rich Internet clients, something was bound to give. Like Linux previously, Ajax has become too popular for vendors to ignore.
Microsoft, Adobe, and IBM/Laszlo have introduced their own frameworks for the next generation rich web client. Yet, Ajax continues to persist, even though no vendor owns it, barely a year after getting its formal identity.
The warning shot was fired by Microsoft Corp, which announced Project Atlas last fall. Atlas extends support of Ajax to the emerging Windows Vista Presentation Foundation visual environment and Visual Studio 2005 tools.
Although Atlas supports common Ajax, the development crystallized concern that down the road, Microsoft might add some of own extensions, forking Ajax like it forked HTML browsers years ago. In so doing, that would have killed one of Ajax’s prime selling points, which is that it runs on any browser.
Consequently, Open Ajax is an attempt for the rest of the community to reassert control over Ajax before Microsoft gets the chance to pre-empt it with proprietary extensions that would otherwise kill one of the key attractions of the technology: that it runs unmodified on any browser.
Even Laszlo, which had its own entry, is backtracking a bit. Signing onto Open Ajax, it plans to add a DHTML run time alternative to Flash, which it currently uses (ironically, Flash is also the basis for Adobe’s Flex rich client framework).
Will Open Ajax be about consolidation or extension? Today, Ajax is a relatively compact collection of technologies that browsers already support. But, says IBM’s Boloker, an open source project could provide the opportunity to add bells and whistles that could bring Ajax to a wider, less technical audience.