XTech2006 - Tuesday

As usual, I don't get round to anything, but here's the notes I made when attending XTech 2006 last month.

The first day was an Ajax developer's day; I was there as I do quite a lot of UI work, this year I've shifted from Java front ends to using XulRunner; see earlier for some technical reasons (apart from having written a couple of million lines of Java over the last ten years and that's quite enough for the moment).

The Ajax developer's day had presentations from several framework vendors. As they are targeting web applications - professionally I'm employed to produce a framework for a suite of applications that sit on closed networks, we go as far as selling laptops with the software installed since the cost of a laptop is not significant compared to the software license, so it's rather a different model to Web2.0 - so some were interesting as examples of frameworks, but many Ajax frameworks simply exist to abstract away browser differences. Since we control our deployment platform, that's not an issue, but some of the showcased frameworks did quite a lot more.

The Yahoo! User Interface Library has some pretty effects, and compound controls for business type applications (calendars and so on). Personally, I prefer having a sensible date field like the one in DabbleDB, which accepts any unambiguous format and doesn't require clicking on, but with an option for a calendar as a sidebar.

Dojo and the future of the open web sort of want to standardize the api of the abstraction layer.

I looked at the OpenLaszlo platform a year and a half ago, and it seemed then and now to not quite be ready. It's a VM and interpreter for an XML language for constructing UIs. Currently, the interpreter is based on the Flash runtime. As a concept, it's interesting, but the execution was very slow on the corporate desktops of my previous employer, and the actual XML language loses many of the advantages of using a traditional XML pipeline such as separation of content, execution logic and presentation. The guy giving the demo apologized for the designer of the box model having been a MFC programmer who didn't know XML, which should be enough for anyone to be put off the product.

Hijax: Progressive Enhancement with Ajax was a solid presentation on enhancing a web application with Ajax, maintaining accessibility in a continuous integration style. Read the full paper if you're building anything on the web.

Developing Enterprise Applications with Ajax and XUL was closer to home - an intranet tool for a single client company - but the actual applications could be made by Dentrassi*. Soooo much grey, bad field alignment, no context, very Windows 95 VB.

Web 2.0 with Adobe Flex and Ajax seemed to involve installing a rather quantity of Adobe's software on your server, so sort of lost my interest. Filtered off my radar for the next couple of years.

As a bit of a language freak, I was looking forward to Combining E4X and AJAX, but Kurt Cagle's flight was too much delayed for him to give his talk. Instead, someone made an impromptu demo of some web-based IM clients, which were competently done but not particularly involving. But good on them for stepping in at the last moment.

AjaX with a Capital X! was an introduction to the BackBase framework. This is a framework using XML to define UI and data bindings. It was interesting, but was not quite what it says on the tin - putting method calls into XML syntax does not make procedural code magically declarative. Which is a pity, as the example introduced as 'you have to stop using declarative bindings when you need conditionals' could have been written in one line of XSTL2 (without conditionals, which are orthogonal to declarative/imperitive), rather than the several lines that the not-quite-declarative binding used. But they least know that they should be getting closer to pure functional code for anything they can, it's just a question of getting the right idioms out there into practice.

Unfortunately, having caught a bit of a cold, I went to bed early and didn't see anything of Amsterdam that evening.

More XTech days later.


*H2G2: The servants of the Vogons, excellent chefs, but who make tasteless food as they hate their masters.



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