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Can Ajax be running partner of Web services?

Ajax has shaken up the user interface world and now has some people talking about its natural synergy with the equally hot premise of service-oriented architecture.

There's nothing more refreshing in the online world than not having to wait for a Web page to refresh.

That's been the buzz accompanying the latest technology for Web developers, Ajax, short for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, which uses browser technology to deliver Web pages that function and feel more like desktop applications. Ajax's biggest splash to date has been on the Google Maps site, yet it's already gaining a position of prominence in rich client discussions, superseding more established tools such as applets, ActiveX and plug-ins.

While Ajax isn't a necessary part of SOA, they're certainly an optimal pairing.
Kevin Hakman
Director of Product MarketingTibco Software Inc.

The change that Ajax may be heralding is a radical re-thinking of the presentation layer that coincides with the radical re-thinking of the application layer brought on by a service-oriented architecture. As new-breed componentized applications get built, the issue of how users interface in a dynamic fashion with dynamic content becomes a matter of no small importance.

"While Ajax isn't a necessary part of SOA, they're certainly an optimal pairing," said Kevin Hakman, director of product marketing for Tibco Software Inc.'s Ajax-based graphical interface tool. "They're able to leverage each other's strengths."

Last year Tibco bought General Interface in what seemed like an odd pairing, but with a third-generation Ajax tool ready to hit the market on Sept. 12, it now looks like the Palo Alto, Calif., company has caught itself the next big wave, along with other vendors making an Ajax push, such as Sun Microsystems Inc. and Microsoft. With its new tool, Tibco hopes to provide the runtime partner to the devtime business of Web services and integration.

"You can actually develop in parallel," Hakman said. "If teams can get together in the early phases and agree on the user interfaces, then the handoffs can be memorialized in a WSDL[Web Service Description Language]."

The core of Ajax is Microsoft's XMLHttpRequest JavaScript object, which works from the browser level cache.

"It can use anything you can get your hands on via HTTP or HTTPs," Hakman said.

According to a recent Forrester Research Inc. report, cascading style sheets, the DynamicHTML Document Object Model and a client-side JavaScript engine that decides when to call the server for backup helps to make Ajax user interfaces faster, more responsive and partially immune to connection losses. Ajax also lightens the server load and doesn't require downloads for rich content.

Yet the report notes that Ajax is not without its flaws either.

"The hype about Ajax is unfortunately overblown: Technical limitations, missing standards and narrow applicability make it more like a different flavor of Java applets than a complete Web revolution," the report found.

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Despite that caveat, Forrester acknowledges Ajax's potential to leapfrog competitive offerings with "stellar" applications, to eke more out of a user's current infrastructure and to pursue a user-centered design model.

The newest Tibco interface tool will look to leverage that ability to bring more application developers and the Web services they're creating into the rich client fold. The interface builder follows the model of SOA tools, which put security and policy a level of abstraction away from the service creation.

"We've created an abstraction layer that insulates developers from the complexities of browser protocols," Hakman said.

Certainly, Ajax has managed to grab itself a spotlight. Now the technology and toolsets must prove themselves as a viable last mile in the coming modularized world of service-oriented architecture.

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