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Thursday, July 20, 2006
Into Ajax? Try MX AJAX Toolbox

Do you enjoy playing with software? I do -- I am forever downloading new products, giving them a spin to see how they work and whether or not they might provide a practical benefit to my work.

At the same time, it is necessary to remain conscious of your basic tools. If you develop in PHP, products designed for .Net are of little benefit.

In the website development world, there are two approaches to creating websites. One is the realm of the traditional developer -- that of coding. Sit down with notepad and start coding. Eventually a website jumps forth. In reality, there are better tools than Notepad, especially Visual Studio.

For those who do not understand nor want to understand code, there are "editors"  designed to provide a word processor experience for writing your web pages. In my humble opinion, none is better than Dreamweaver. I have used this product since it was in version 3.0 (the current version is 8.0, so that has been a long time). Not only is Dreamweaver a great product, but it has been designed to take advantage of all the other toys that have drifted through the web design / development arena. These new toys are called extensions in the Dreamweaver world. They are similar to browser plug-ins. Add the extension and new functionality arrives within your Dreamweaver development window.

One of the best extension developers in the world is InterAKT. From "simple" CSS Menus to complex e-Kommerce solutions InterAKT. has provided great, workable products designed to extend the ability of the web page producer by allowing more functions to be available without the need to learn any programming. The blogs on this site are prepared using KTML, an InterAKT. extension that " is an online HTML editor that helps you edit your website content directly in a browser." My ministry site, Jude Ministries, was completely developed using Dreamweaver and InterAKT. extensions.

One of the "newest" tools being used by web designers is known as AJAX -- Asynchronous JavaScript Xml development. This process is not as new as the label, but is one of the hottest tools around. Hundreds of development libraries have been designed to take advantage of the capabilities of AJAX. The biggest advantage of this tool is the ability to repaint a small portion of a page with new information without having to submit the entire dynamic page back to the server to be updated.

As you might know, AJAX is less than simple. The existence of so many development libraries suggests the potential issues involved. Further, to make use of these libraries one must be able to code. The libraries are very helpful, but they are nothing but collections of code that must be incorporated into your web page -- somehow.

So, for those who are designers, how can you take advantage of AJAX?

Enter InterAKT. and their new product MX AJAX Toolbox. Using visual dialogue boxes and Dreamweaver's standard approach to applying server behaviors to a web page, this product is the answer to everyone's desire to "be current" with their web page content.

This is where I can tie a discussion of playing with toys back into a review of this product. InterAKT. has been running the MX AJAX Toolbox in beta for several weeks now and I am proud to be part of the original beta group. I was there to watch the first version occasionally blow up on the page and provide very uninteresting results. As part of the group learning the product, I can confidently tell you the company has responded marvelously not only to fixing the bugs, but to modifying the product to account for many of the suggestions offered by those of us who will use the product long term.

So, what does MX AJAX Toolbox offer? How about . . .

  • a tabset wizard
  • accordian controls that collapse and expand on a mouse function, hiding or displaying information
  • entire regions that are collapsible
  • a dialog box wizard to assist your development process and your communication with clients
  • dynamic tables, with quick sorting ability without sending the entire page back to the server
  • the ability to create a complex photo gallery in a few simple steps
  • create a star rating system for your products, reviews, etc.
  • suggest text for a text input box
  • the ability to drop and drag widgets
  • the ability to use web services on your page
  • multiple states for a given section of your page -- in other words, the ability to change the data in one box on the page
  • AJAX links
  • All combined with the ability to use CSS skins, control the layout, and use all of these tools in a manner compatible with normal Dreamweaver behaviors

What's even more exciting is the fact that the MX AJAX Toolbox functions and plays in a friendly manner with all of the other InterAKT. extensions, providing your website with the ability to present some amazingly complex material in a manner that You can handle. I can testify to the fact the extension is both easy to use and very versatile. InterAKT. provides the following description, taken from the current tutorial:

MX AJAX Toolbox is the InterAKT. product that allows you to build AJAX-based websites in just a few steps.  It's a well-known fact that a web application that employs AJAX is much more difficult to build than a classic one (that does not use AJAX).  This is where MX AJAX Toolbox comes to ease your work, and it simplifies it tremendously.

MX AJAX Toolbox helps web developers and designers create interactive and appealing site front-ends. It is a Dreamweaver extension that will enable visual AJAX development. It will include a wizard to help people create a site skeleton with ease, a replacement for the Dreamweaver templates and a suite of AJAX controls and visual effects. Its main goals are:

  • Reuse Dreamweaver concepts for an easy learning curve

  • Allow AJAX development without forcing people to learn JavaScript

With MX AJAX Toolbox, you can build AJAX-based sites without learning any programming languages or techniques, and following the usual work-flow in Dreamweaver. There are three types of applications that you can build using this product:

  1. Static AJAX-based site.

  2. Dynamic AJAX-based site.

  3. Improve an existing site by adding interactive AJAX controls

InterAKT has prepared a wonderful demo site that displays the power of this great new product. The demonstration website can be found here.

Yes, it is fun to play with tools. I am saddened by the fact the AJAX Toolbox beta period is coming to an end, but I have the pleasure of knowing this is a great product -- and InterAKT. is in the process of upgrading its premier product MX Kollection. I am part of that beta group so there are still toys to play with.

MX AJAX Toolbox will be available from InterAKT. sometime next week, the week of July 24. Keep your eyes open for the release of this great product.

Jim A

 


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