February 4, 2006

Eclipse accepts OpenAJAX framework code

Author: Tina Gasperson

The Eclipse Foundation has granted initial approval to incorporate a new AJAX Toolkit Framework into its Web Tools Platform (WTP) project. The framework includes a "personality builder" that is expected to provide IDE-building tools for many specific AJAX runtime programs, including Dojo and Zimbra. IBM, the driving force behind the AJAX Toolkit Framework development effort, has launched the OpenAJAX initiative in hopes of attracting coding participation from outside IBM.

David Boloker, CTO of emerging technologies for IBM, is enthusiastic about the OpenAJAX project, which he says is the culmination of many years of work in browser-side and portal-side development. "Over the years, a lot of us have chatted," he says. "You started out in 1993 with a paradigm of publishing. Then it went to ecommerce, then the birth of blogs and wiki. But people have been striving for a way of getting high-quality user interfaces out to a PC. What they don't want to have to do is that support piece -- they don't want to drop any code on that PC because then they'll have to maintain it. This past year, starting in January when Google pushed out Google Maps, a whole bunch of lights went on in the community."

Google was using a system of technology that is now known as AJAX, or Asynchronous JavaScript and XML. AJAX is quickly becoming the darling of the Web application development industry. Frank Gens, senior vice president of research for IDC, writes that "AJAX is a key technology for advancing the Web-centric computing vision that Google and IBM share."

AJAX allows complex user interactions that respond more like PC-side applications than traditional Web applications, which require frequent page loading. "After you have two or three page loads, studies show that you've had enough, and you move on to another task," Boloker says of visitors to interactive Web sites. "AJAX allows you to have one page, where what you're doing is sending XML down so you can create what appears to be a single user interface." AJAX sites are bring the Web to a place where plugins will no longer be necessary, Boloker says, which makes the Internet even more platform-agnostic.

So what led IBM to begin an open source initiative centered on AJAX development? "AJAX didn't happen because of one company," Boloker says. "It's been a movement. What was very clear is that everyone already has a toolkit." The open source community responded quickly to the advent of AJAX by building a plethora of development toolkits. Boloker says there are more than 70 of them available.

The OpenAJAX framework will come out of the box supporting three of those: Dojo, OpenRico, and Zimbra. "Why these three? We thought they would be the most descriptive of what's actually happening today," Boloker says. "There are two kinds of developers out there. One is a developer who's coming from Java or C++ and knows object-oriented programming. They're looking for an object-oriented environment. On the other side is a Web developer who has been developing in HTML and JavaScript for years. We needed to create a development environment where they can write and use and debug the code, and that allows them to have multiple personalities."

Boloker says IBM wanted to contribute the framework to the community because the company believes it is part of the community. "We are developers in the Eclipse community. We hope that once the code goes into Eclipse, folks will come and help us extend it. They'll want to add support for more toolkits, they'll see functionality they need that we didn't think of. We're looking at building a whole new community around AJAX inside Eclipse. We're purely looking at it from 'how do we move AJAX forward.'"

Now that Eclipse has granted initial approval to IBM's request to include the framework in the Eclipse platform, the issue is up for discussion until the end of February. Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, says he doesn't foresee any objections from the developer community. "We have to respect our process, but we expect this proposal to be approved," he says. Then development will begin in earnest. "Hopefully we'll see a lot of pick up in the communities and we'll start moving everything forward," Boloker says.


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