Archive for September, 2008

Endless options mean web development does not have to hit the rails

September 26, 2008

As I have stated before, better application interaction across different devices should be the web standard we all aim for.

However, progress has been sticky – and it can be difficult for users to access applications on different devices.

Standards such as XForms and WHATWG provide a step in the right direction, but are constrained by either the need for user plug-ins or the slow development of the framework.

So, how do alternative standards – such as JavaServer Faces (JSF) and Ruby on Rails (RoR) – provide more opportunities for creating web applications?

As its name suggests, JSF is Java-based – and its component-based framework aims to ease the development of user interfaces (UIs).

The approach allows the creation and re-use of specific components, promoting the quick and flexible development of web pages.

One of the other key benefits of JSF is the ability to work with a range of internet technologies. Particularly notable is the interaction with Ajax, which can help developer’s enrich JSF designs with Ajax-based components.

Work on the JSF specification continues apace and a series of big-name vendors are helping to push the development and adoption of the standard.

RoR – which is an open source framework for creating web applications – is also receiving an increasing amount of backing.

The framework intends to push agile programming, providing standard models for web site construction and the automatic allocation of information in databases.

Apple started shipping the framework in late 2007 and other firms continue to show an interest.

Microsoft, for example, recently announced plans to increase its commitment to Ruby. The Redmond-based software giant plans to take part in the RubySpec project, an attempt to provide a complete specification for the RoR programming language.

Such progress shows how developers do not need to feel constrained as they attempt to create usable web applications.

As my previous posts have aimed to highlight, the world of front-end development for SOA is a crowded place and each framework offers a unique blend of benefits and constraints.

My advice is simple. First, don’t re-invent the wheel – there is definitely an available framework that suits your needs, without having to create a presentation platform.

Second, take tour time before sourcing a solution. Look at all your presentation requirements across online and offline experiences, analyse support for devices and variations in presentation, and also investigate the skills you may – or may not have – in your organisation.

Just remember that the options are out most definitely out there.


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Specialists can be better than jack-of-all-trades

September 15, 2008

Last month, I talked about convergence and the emergence of multi-purpose devices. It was a timely post.

Check out the recent hype surrounding the launch of the updated iPhone. Media reports give the impression the whole world wants all-purpose, smart phone technology.

While the queues of eager customers snaking around Apple stores are representative of high demand for converged devices, we should also retain a sense of perspective.

Convergence is a popular and well-supported theory, but an alternative school of thought suggests we are about to enter a period of device divergence.

Rather than relying on a single converged device that attempts to cover as many technical areas as possible, the divergence concept recognises users will not necessarily demand converged technology because it is possible to bring together component parts.

Divergence is a more than plausible theory because many people still hold separate devices, despite modern phones including a range of smarter options.

Everything comes down to an issue of quantity versus quality: just because a device holds many applications doesn’t mean an individual will use them.

Rather than a one-size-fits all approach, more individuals are actually looking for specialist devices for specific purposes, such as a BlackBerry for email and an iPod for music.

In summary, devices essentially consist of an input mechanism, such as a keyboard, touch or movement – and an output means, including graphics, voice and text. Other essential elements are memory and a central processing unit.

Finding ways to connect the elements of such devices will be crucial. And if you can successfully connect the various components, users will be able to integrate a range of separate technologies through wireless technology.

While people may prefer using their specialist devices, some element of connectivity will be essential – especially if individuals want different applications on different devices to communicate.

Any user experiences are possible, once we recognise the logic of specific applications can be transferred to any output mechanism. Here’s to a future of multiple users for single devices.


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Rich Web Poor Web

September 1, 2008

When it comes to applications developed in Adobe Flash nobody can argue with their distinct visual appeal. Combining rich graphics and dynamic behaviour this is a technology that has focused very effectively on creating truely rich applications.

 

Now other similar multimedia technologies, such as Microsoft Silverlight – provide great platforms for developing sexy applications. Outside of these two proprietary options, developers are getting spoilt with huge arrays of AJax widgets, DoJo and BackBase to name just a couple.

 

Suddenly all applications could have the appeal and Mac like interfaces, and that what it’s all about when it comes to user interfaces isn’t it? 

 

When it comes to applications what is more important, the appearance and dynamism of its interface or its functionality and accessibility to information? Not a difficult question to answer – especially when you consider the demands of your users and customers, the majority of whom will require the right information quickly.

 

Internal users especially often get used to an application user interface and are able to navigate and enter data without even looking at screens. As such the allure of these sexy interfaces soon fades and the basic premises of usability comes to the fore. Rich web applications with poor web usability will only lose your audience over time.

 

So don’t be fooled by Rich Internet Applications as meaning “sexy user interfaces”, using the technology to create usable applications should be your first priority.

 

For example Ajax has it’s place not only for creating a greater array of user interface controls than standard HTML, but also ensuring application performance is optimised especially when users are accessing the application in low bandwidth environments.

 

As for Adobe Flash, well it’s real strengths lie in being able to create pixel perfect print layouts and creating desktop performant applications in a browser environment.

 

Smart design is an important consideration, but alone it is akin to putting lipstick on a pig. In the on-demand information age, a usable application is most definitely king.


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