Microsoft, Google Join OpenAjax Alliance

What is fast becoming one of the computing industry's most diverse consortiums of competitors will meet tomorrow at IBM's offices in New York, for the first time with Microsoft as a contributing member. The OpenAjax Alliance is seeking to develop a standard specification for Asynchronous JavaScript, which can now also count Google among its ranks, after having co-founded the Alliance but having held out on its decision to officially join...for reasons some speculate may have had to do with Microsoft.

For all intents and purposes, Google and Microsoft are AJAX, with Google having led the way in promoting the concept of JavaScript code that isn't bound to browser-based events. The freely distributed Google Web Toolkit (GWT) provided most Web developers' first introduction to document object models that could be amended on the fly. Microsoft came along not long afterward with its betas of "Atlas," which have since been pulled in under the ASP.NET umbrella.

With JavaScript already an accepted ECMA standard (due in large part, ironically, to Microsoft's persistence), and with Google's continued insistence upon purging proprietary deviations, there would seem on the surface to be few technical reasons why the OpenAjax Alliance couldn't come to terms on a single standard. Even with IBM, Sun, and Oracle among its members, the act of the Alliance producing a first-draft specification could be relatively simple.

But what might potentially bog down members anyway are discussions about their ulterior motives. Though both ASP.NET AJAX and GWT are free to the consumer, they each leverage separate sets of technologies which link to all sorts of proprietary possibilities. The link between Microsoft's implementation and Active Server Pages is now blatantly obvious, with its AJAX becoming an extension of its server-side scripting. Today, that scripting is geared for Internet Information Services, and makes good use of other branded services such as SQL Server. Microsoft's AJAX demonstrations of late have been heavily geared toward XAML, the company's XML-based user interface description language - a tool which is reliant upon either the Windows Presentation Foundation ("Avalon") library in Windows Vista, or the .NET 3.0 Framework.

GWT, meanwhile, isn't exactly brand agnostic. Front-end development, for instance, takes place within a Java environment; and here, Google suggests its friend and partner Sun's development tools. User interface modules built for Java are converted to JavaScript under HTML by GWT.

With the understanding that vendors will naturally try to leverage their investments in AJAX by tying their implementations to existing commercial product lines, early Alliance members last September formed what is called the OpenAjax Hub. Its aim is to set a clear line in the sandbox, as it were, regarding where the standard ends and vendors' implementations should begin.

It's a very important line, because a cross-platform standard should not show favoritism toward any one member's technologies or products. Last month, Mozilla programmer John Resig cast a critical eye on some of the Hub developers' initial choices, including the choice of an event listening scheme that was based on a concept used by Internet Explorer. Resig called this choice "throwing standards to the wind."

The OpenAjax Hub's mission statement says it was founded to address the problem of "first-generation Ajax libraries...designed with the assumption that developers will use these libraries in isolation from other Ajax libraries." Mozilla is not yet a member of the Alliance, nor is Yahoo - another co-founder, by way of having co-authored the group's charter documents. Yahoo has become a major AJAX user, having completely redesigned its front page for AJAX, and in so doing throwing per-page-view analytics services into a quandary over how much of a page needs to be redrawn to be considered a "refresh," for the sake of advertisers' measurements.

Yahoo and Mozilla may be awaiting the outcome of the Alliance's meetings later this week, to determine whether the group is serious about erecting a permanent fence to keep out vendor-specific variations, especially now that their two principal competitors - Google and Microsoft, respectively - may now be the group's guiding forces.

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