Adobe Systems has announced Spry, a tool to make Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) programming easier for web designers.

The company will offer a free pre-release version of the HTML-centric Spry Ajax framework, which includes a JavaScript library for web designers, said Jennifer Taylor, senior product manager for Adobe's Dreamweaver products.

Developed at Adobe Labs, Spry can incorporate XML into HTML documents using technologies such as HTML, Cascading Style Sheets, and a minimal amount of JavaScript.

Spry lets Web designers create Ajax-enabled web pages without having to learn new languages or adopt a full programming model, Taylor said. "It's very lightweight and flexible," Taylor said. The framework can be used with Dreamweaver or any other web authoring tool, according to Adobe.

"This was built out of a need we identified in the marketplace," Taylor said. As Adobe talked to Web designers, the company found they were interested in Ajax but that many existing frameworks were more oriented to people with existing programming skills. Frameworks such as Zimbra and Dojo were rich but required a deeper skill set than what web designers have, Taylor said.

"Adobe is deliberately avoiding a new tag set," or imposing a full programming model to develop in Ajax, she said.

Massimo Foti, a freelance Web designer, Adobe Dreamweaver customer, and Ajax user, said Spry provides a reusable, flexible alternative to writing ad hoc routines to parse data stored in XML. Spry also emphasises the dataset, Foti said.

"The first thing is that Spry put the dataset at the core of its architecture. It's the first Ajax framework that does this," said Foti.

The pre-release thus far lacks a widget framework, but Adobe is working on an architecture for widgets.

Adobe does not see its Flash technology for web applications as competitive with Ajax. "We see them as tools that leverage some of the same skills and provide different levels of functionality," said Todd Hay, director of platform marketing at Adobe.

The company will gather feedback before deciding when to offer Spry as a general release. Adobe intends to get money from Spry by incorporating support for it into authoring tools such as Dreamweaver.