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Programming Atlas by Christian Wenz

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The technology that is the foundation of the Ajax platform is taking the Web by storm. By using the capabilities of contemporary browsers to their fullest, Ajax enables a new level of rich user experiences for the Web with technologies that are fully standardized and broadly available.

Ajax’s underlying capabilities have been available for some time in browsers such as Internet Explorer, but only in recent years has the Web evolved to bring these capabilities into the mainstream, making richer web experiences commonplace. For developers, however, providing these experiences also increases the complexity of web development.

When we set out to develop Atlas in 2005, we wanted to dramatically simplify Ajax-style web application development and make it easy for any developer to build a rich, interactive, personalized web experience for the browser. Atlas addresses many of the key challenges of Ajax development, including:

A high-productivity development experience for JavaScript and Ajax

Due to the lack of end-to-end frameworks and tools, learning and working with JavaScript is a frequent challenge for Ajax development. Atlas makes it possible for anyone to build web applications by wiring together components, without having to learn JavaScript or DHTML. And for experienced script and Ajax developers, Atlas provides a useful set of patterns and tools to build reusable Ajax components. Because the client framework is written in JavaScript, it is incredibly easy to deploy.

Along with the framework, we are building tools for developers and designers that make it easier to design, develop, debug, and deploy Ajax applications. The next version of Visual Studio will include an integrated authoring experience for Atlas and a great development and debugging story for JavaScript.

Support for a wide variety of browsers, platforms, and standards

One of the key advantages of Ajax is that it is based on widely deployed standards-based browsers. However, building an application that is consistent on all browsers is still a challenge for developers because of implementation differences in browsers. Atlas works on a wide variety of modern browsers and platforms and also includes a browser compatibility layer that reduces the pain of cross-browser development. Atlas is fully compliant with existing web standards, including XHTML and CSS.

Seamless integration with the server

Vast numbers of web applications today use server-based application platforms such as ASP.NET, PHP, or J2EE. By providing a choice of server- or client-centric programming models, Atlas lets developers easily extend and enrich these applications.

A key element of Atlas is the seamless end-to-end integration it provides with ASP.NET. In less than five years, ASP.NET has grown into one of the top platforms for web application development. The latest version, ASP.NET 2.0, makes it even easier for web developers to design and develop applications. With Atlas, we wanted to ensure that ASP.NET developers could use the same high-productivity platform to build Ajax-style applications. Atlas’s server controls, such as the UpdatePanel, make it incredibly easy for ASP.NET developers to build richer Ajax-enabled applications without having to learn or write JavaScript or asynchronous browser programming. The Atlas runtime also installs on top of ASP.NET 2.0, allowing developers to enrich their applications effortlessly.

If you’re not using ASP.NET on the server, Atlas also integrates well with other server platforms such as PHP, as illustrated in this book.

A rich toolbox of experiences

Building great user experiences requires good, consistent design combined with code to bring the designs to action. Atlas makes it easy to implement these experiences in a consistent way, because many core UI patterns, such as drag-and-drop, floating windows, and graphical animations, are built into the framework. For a comprehensive collection of controls and UI patterns, you can use the Atlas Control Toolkit (available in source code form), which was developed in partnership with our developer community.

Programming Atlas provides a comprehensive, in-depth look at Atlas and gives you what you need to know to build rich web applications, gadgets, and components with it. For newcomers, it also provides a great overview of basic Ajax concepts, such as JavaScript, XMLHttpRequest, and JSON.

Christian Wenz covers each topic in a clear, easily understandable style, with lots of practical examples and sample code. I am particularly fond of the chapter on using Atlas with other server technologies. Christian is well versed in PHP and helped me put together the samples I used to illustrate the great integration of Atlas with other server platforms.

It has been very exciting to work on Atlas over the past year, and I hope it will be an important part of your development toolbox. If you are looking to develop richer, more interactive experiences for your web applications and sites, Atlas and this book can provide you with a great start. I hope you enjoy them.

Shanku Niyogi

Product Unit Manager

UI Framework and Services Team

Microsoft Corporation

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