The Wikipedia page for Ajax (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ajax) provides more than 40 meanings for the word, including the names of two characters in Homer’s Iliad (Ajax the Great and Ajax the Lesser), the name of an Amsterdam soccer team, a couple of automobiles, a horse, and—my personal favorite—a household cleaner made by Colgate. However, Ajax is also the term for a collection of technologies many say could revolutionize the Web. If various weblogs and online and print commentaries are to be believed, Ajax is the future of web development, the enabler of Web 2.0, and probably a cure for fatal diseases, as well.
Many web developers want to provide their users with a far richer client experience but don’t want to write a Windows client application (or, for practical reasons, cannot write one). Ajax could be just what they need. It allows web applications to behave almost like desktop applications, with features such as keyboard shortcuts and drag-and-drop placement.
ASP.NET “Atlas” was the code name for a new set of technologies from Microsoft that provide Ajax-like functionality for the ASP.NET developer. It offered many of the same benefits for Ajax development that ASP.NET provides for server-side development. In autumn of 2006, the final product name was announced: ASP.NET AJAX. (However, Atlas is much easier to pronounce.)
I resisted writing about Ajax for quite some time. For years, I had used and written about the technologies that make up Ajax, but the term itself had to be coined in early 2005 before the technology really took off. In my opinion, Clemens Vasters said it best: “Web 2.0 yadda yadda AJAX yaddayadda Profit!(?)” (see http://vasters.com/clemensv/PermaLink,guid,d88c1112-d8da-496e-9fd0-8cf03cf55c32.aspx).
The hype reminds me of the buzz that accompanied XML and web services a few years back: everybody was talking about them, but few had ever read their specs. Once reality settled in, the hype vanished and actual real-world applications appeared that made effective use of both technologies.