GCN INSIDER: Trends and technologies that affect the way government does IT

Mr. Clean comes to the Web

The latest buzz in the Web development world is AJAX, an acronym for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (XML itself is short for Extensible Markup Language). To hear the evangelists tell it, AJAX finally gives Web developers the power to build pages that can have as many features as regular desktop applications.

'Web interaction designers can't help but feel a little envious of our colleagues who create desktop software. Desktop applications have a richness and responsiveness that has seemed out of reach on the Web,' explained Jesse James Garrett in an essay explaining the concept [Go to GCN.com and enter 488 in the GCN.com/box]. Garrett is the founder of usability consultants Adaptive Path LLC of San Francisco.

AJAX puts Web developers on equal footing with their program developers, Garrett claims. AJAX is not a new technology itself, but rather a collection of such technologies as JavaScript, the Document Object Model, Cascading Style Sheets and other geeky Web widgets. AJAX will work in recent versions of major browsers.

Traditionally, when a live Web page needs to be changed or updated, the browser sends a request to a server, which sends back a new page. This approach limits the features a page can offer and gives them a clunky feel. In contrast, AJAX drops a JavaScript-based processing engine on the browser, usually in a hidden frame. The engine acts as liaison between the browser and the server, smoothing over the performance during transitional times and adding more functionality.

Google Maps (http://maps.google. com) is an AJAX service. This Web site lets users tug a map around on the screen to find a particular location, augment the map with satellite views and overlay the map with textual information. Pretty nifty. So when will government sites make use of this technology?

Sifting through intelligence

Intelligence software provider i2 Inc. of Springfield, Va., has introduced a search engine specifically designed to query the charts produced by its flagship i2 Visual Notebook software. This application should help users of Visual Notebook make better use of their old output.

Intelligence and law enforcement agencies have long used Visual Notebook to make charts or visual representations of complex scenarios. The software provides little icons that represent the characters, as well as connective lines that run among them and represent relationships.

However, once these charts were finished, they were often not reused. 'These work products were often discarded after an investigation was completed, and yet an enormous amount of work has gone into the creation of this intelligence,' i2 president Jack Reis told GCN.

Now ChartExplorer gives analysts an easy way to find out if there is any information of value in these old charts. The desktop software, which runs on Microsoft Windows XP and Windows 2000, indexes the contents of every chart in whatever directories a user has permission to access.
Then the software works like a search engine, returning results to queries.

It ranks results, shows previews and can even show what searches other users conducted. ChartExplorer costs $1,725 per user and is on the General Services Administration Schedule 70.

Control on controls

Enterprise application vendor Appian Corp. of Vienna, Va., has introduced software that lets federal managers monitor critical processes in accordance with the Office of Management and Budget's Circular A-123 for handling management controls. The company's Federal Internal Controls application develops workflows that can then be monitored with metrics for OMB Circular A-123 requirements.

The application is built from the company's business process management engine and is generally a bit less expensive than the company's full-featured BPM software. But it can only be used for those processes that would fall under the domain of Circular A-123, said Kevin Spurway, vice president of marketing for Appian.

An agency could use the software to put into place a procurement system that would make sure users don't skirt procurement rules (i.e. prevent someone from making multiple $500 purchases to avoid a policy-derived process that checks purchases over $1,000). The software assigns an owner to each process. That owner must then sign off that the process was tested to ensure no hanky-panky can take place. The software starts at about $100,000 per copy.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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