Microsoft has brought the release of its "Atlas" programming components forward to the end of the year.

Atlas is a jumble of different technologies that help developers use Ajax programming for Microsoft ASP.Net and was planned to be launched next year.

Now, the server-side functionality will be split off and renamed ASP.Net 2.0 AJAX Extensions; and client-side functionality, which integrates ASP.Net with PHP or ColdFusion will be called Microsoft AJAX Library. The Atlas Control Toolkit wil be called the ASP.Net AJAX Control Toolkit.

Microsoft had planned to ship Atlas with the next version of Visual Studio, codenamed Orcas, due next year. But by releasing components this year, companies will be able to take Atlas applications into production with fully supported APIs, Microsoft said.

Development of Atlas has met some roadblocks. An Update Panel feature for page refreshes was beset with reliability problems, according to a presentation at the Microsoft TechEd 2006 conference in June. The company also had questions over which browsers to support.

Nonetheless there has been tremendous interest in Atlas, according to the general manager of Microsoft's developer division, Scott Guthrie. "We've had an unbelievable amount of interest and excitement around the product, with more than 250,000 downloads this year alone," Guthrie said on his blog. "I am excited to announce today that we are going to ship this fully supported Atlas 1.0 release on top of ASP.Net 2.0 and ensure that it works with Visual Studio 2005."