It was over a year ago that I started working with a product called Microsoft Atlas. I wanted to use it to build a rich web client for managing licensed commercial music for a cable television studio, based on the expectation that the client must work on multiple platforms (hence a web application) and at the same time provide rich functionality such as our sponsors were used to in their desktop applications (hence Ajax). The whole time I was building it, I had the expectation that the final release was right around the corner. In December of 2005, Atlas was rumored to have a release date sometime in the March or April range. A year, a name change, and a few scope changes later, it has finally arrived.
The product is an example of Microsoft coming late to the party. Based on a key bit of technology originally developed by Microsoft engineers over seven years ago, the XMLHttpRequest API, alternate vendors like Yahoo, Google and others helped to develop a style of programming called Ajax that allowed web clients to talk to a webserver without a page refresh. Ajax in turn was adopted by advocates of the term Web 2.0 as one of the hallmarks of the phenomena they wished to tout in an attempt to revitalize interest in the web as a business platform following the disaster that we now all know as The IT Bubble of the 90’s.
Why Microsoft took so long to get around to it is an open question. Very likely, they were busy getting on the web services band wagon as a way to promote Smart Clients as their technology of choice for integrating the desktop with the web. While very cool in its own right, it hasn’t really achieved the same mindshare that Ajax has among web developers, and so — better late than never — we now have ASP.NET Ajax to kick around, and it can be downloaded here.