Programming Atlas

Published on Sunday, September 17, 2006

Programming Atlas, by Christopher Wentz, has not yet officially been released but I’ve had the chance to read it and keep up with progress through the O’Reilly Rough Cuts program. With its last update happening over a month ago, I anticipate that its now press ready and that a review of the book would be appropriate at this time.

Programming Atlas

Even though Atlas has not yet been officially released, this book is already a late comer to the market. It’s been beaten to market by a variety of AJAX texts that included some coverage of Atlas and at least one dedicated Atlas book from Apress. With all the press around Ajax and the huge Microsoft ASP.NET programmers market, putting out a book in the Atlas category is an opportunity that won’t be ignored by the major publishing houses. After trying out Atlas for a while during its Community Technology Preview (CTP) release and seeing the fairly extensive documentation and examples released by both Microsoft and the community, I tend to think that it’s an opportunity that they might best have chosen to ignore just the same.

Working through Christopher’s book, things appeared to be clustered into several sections. Although this is not officially the way the book is broken down, it makes the most sense from a reviewing standpoint:

  • Introductory Chapters – Introduction to Atlas, AJAX, JavaScript, and client-side controls. This material takes up the first eight chapters (i.e. half) of the book and the information contained within can largely be garnered elsewhere including articles, books, and the Atlas documentation. If you’re not entirely new to AJAX, this section of materials is skimmable or skippable entirely.
  • Server-Side Chapters – These chapters cover using server data, custom data sources, Web services, and cross-domain calls using a server proxy. This is by far the best original material in the book and is well worth a read.
  • Atlas Implementation Chapters – This section covers the broadest array of topics. Some of it, such as extending controls and using Atlas with Web parts, is very interesting material. Other sections, such as Map mashups (using MapPoint, blah!), and the Atlas control toolkit (great tools, no value added above and beyond MS materials).
  • “Other” Chapters – Certainly not what I bought the book for. Using Atlas with PHP, other AJAX tool coverage, although interesting, was put at the tail end of the book for a reason. This material could just have well been made into appendixes or omitted entirely.

All in all, Christopher’s writing style is good and he gives adequate coverage to the breadth of Atlas topics. This book might make for a good desk reference but is a tedious end-to-end read. Stick to the documentation or go for more pragmatic materials such as O’Reilly’s other offering in this area, Getting Started with Atlas, from their shortcuts series.