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Microsoft Gives First Glimpse of Atlas

Microsoft's new Web application development tool, code named Atlas, is out in the open in the form of a developer preview and Web site.

Atlas is the company's answer to developing Web applications using the Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) style of programming.

Not for faint-hearted programmers, AJAX requires a firm grasp of server-side as well as client-side programming experience. Microsoft aims to ease most of the heavy manual code-lifting with its Atlas tool tied to the Visual Studio suite.

The development team behind Atlas also demonstrated the new application at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Los Angeles, where it is one of many first looks at upcoming technology from the software giant.

Delivering on its cross-browser claims, the demo featured a Web app created in Atlas and then displayed both in Internet Explorer (IE) and the Mac's Safari browsers.

John Montgomery, a director in Microsoft's developer division, said Atlas is a set of extensions to ASP.NET and exposed through VS 2005. It consists of a client-side framework to code against objects with ASP.NET server controls.

Programmers who wish to download and run the Atlas Visual Studio Installers (VSI) will need to be running the second beta version of Visual Studio 2005, according to Microsoft's Atlas Web page.

Rob Chartier, a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) for ASP/ASP.NET, said the Atlas preview is a good starting point for Microsoft to work from, but still has a ways to go before before it's finalized.

He credits Scott Guthrie of Microsoft's Web platform and tools and the rest of his team for their excellent work on Atlas but dislikes the fact Atlas comes with its own set of client-side controls. This, Chartier said, will force developers to learn an entirely new object model.

"It is unfortunate that they just don't bake this technology directly into the framework and have some sort of universal rendering for any type of 'browser,' be that an [Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML)] browser, your typical web browser, mobile, etc."

Guthrie noted on his blog that separating the controls from the core was a design choice.

"One of our goals has been to make it really easy to try out and take advantage of, and not burden people with the need to upgrade their core ASP.NET and VS bits to a yet a new beta immediately after [VS 2005] ships," he noted. "As we get further along we’ll integrate things even more into ASP.NET and VS – but for right now we are trying to keep things fast and flexible for people."

Guthrie also said Atlas is nowhere near beta quality yet; call it an early alpha version of the technology. As VS 2005 finishes up, he said, the quality assurance team will start working on Atlas.

The Web site contains the standard tools of the trade to get down to developing like tutorials and an online discussion forum. Also included are two VSIs -- blank project and hands-on-lab templates -- for developers.

Developers can visit Microsoft's Atlas site here.