In the “fat” client desktop world, the concept of embedding one application’s
content in another is nothing new.

Doing the same thing online via AJAX, however, has not yet been commonplace, but thanks to a new proposed specification
being heralded by Zimbra called ALE (AJAX Linking and Embedding), that may be
about to change.

Satish Dharmaraj, co-founder and CEO of open source collaboration suite Zimbra
explained to internetnews.com that ALE is the AJAX equivalent of
Microsoft’s OLE .

OLE enables users to embed a
component of one application inside of another, for example a Microsoft
Excel spreadsheet inside of a Microsoft Word document.

Ross Dargahi, co-founder and vice president of engineering at Zimbra, explained that modern Web browsers have a design mode capability, which is what AJAX editors use in order to bold or highlight text in an online application, for example.

“What Zimbra has done is figured out a way that, while in edit mode, you can
embed other AJAX components into that window and those components can stay
live,” Dargahi said.

“For example, if you have an AJAX spreadsheet component,
you can embed it in this editable window using the spreadsheet component while
still being able to edit the text and the content around exactly as you
would with Microsoft Office or Open Office.”

The ALE spec specifies a design pattern that an ALE component can
execute. The ALE framework will recognize the pattern and enable it to
interact with a component.

“You can imagine all kinds of different AJAX components that you could embed
and put into such a document,” Dargahi said. “ALE takes AJAX to the next
level making Web applications a lot more analogous to the desktop

Dharmaraj noted that ALE is intended to be an open specification
that he hopes is broadly adopted across the AJAX community.

“There is no Zimbra trademark or copyright on it; it’s something that
everybody can use as they see fit,” Dharmaraj said. “What we hope to gain
from this is the furthering of thin-client and zero-footprint computing with
Zimbra being at the leading edge of that.

Zimbra isn’t the only company that sees potential in ALE. IBM is interested
in it, too.

“Really what ALE is is an AJAX design pattern,” David Boloker, CTO of Emerging Technology at IBM, told internetnews.com. “As a design
pattern as you start to see the use of it and discussion and applicability
across different kinds of apps, it becomes pretty interesting.”

Boloker noted that potentially every single application that is AJAX-based
could have an embed of an object.

“This is an intersection in the Web of where Web documents come in,” Boloker
said. “Inside the Web document could be anything from a map to a piece of
data, which then could get mashed up with something else which then could
have an embed to a third thing.”

ALE is currently just a draft specification, though Zimbra is using it in a
currently non-public build of its collaboration suite. A forthcoming public
build is expected sometime soon, however.

Boloker said that the place for full ALE discussion should likely be
the OpenAJAX project, which is an industry association that is helping to
further AJAX deployment and development.

“To me this [ALE] is the beginning of a good discussion about what is
embedding, how embedding should work within AJAX, and finally we’ll start
seeing usage cases and demo code come out,” Boloker said.

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