Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Ajax Day at XTech

Ajax and XTechYesterday was my first day at XTech 2006 in Amsterdam - the pre-conference day, with tutorials and a special "Ajax Day" track. I was unable to attend all the sessions and one presenter did not show up, but I did attend the talks on Dojo, OpenLaszlo, Flex, and Backbase.

Most interesting was the presentation of the Yahoo! User Interface library (of which we currently use the slider component to implement xforms:range). It appears that there is much more from it we could use in Orbeon PresentationServer, from basic facilities to event handling (even as the page loads), to animations to other widgets like the tree widget, and drag & drop.

The day ended with a series of 8 or 9 lightning Ajax demos, where we showed the OPS Ajax-based XForms engine - it was quite a challenge to do this in 5 minutes, but I got my last screen showing up as the clock marked 0:00!

Now for the philosophical part. As interesting all the presented technologies and frameworks are, most of them expose Javascript fairly heavily to the page author. This is true for the lower-level Dojo and YUI, of course, which doesn't bother me the least as I see those frameworks as the "deployment" technology for XForms. But this is also the case for the higher-level OpenLaszlo and Flex - at least, they assume that you need Javascript to do something really useful, meaning by that a user interface that actually reacts to user interaction.

Now Javascript does come in handy at some point. However, with XForms, that point seems to be that much further removed, and this is simply due to XForms Events and actions and the underlying XML Events framework: a lot of thought has gone in those to define a small set of useful events and actions that greatly reduces the need for Javascript. While XForms is not quite unique in that respect (as I discovered with the Backbase presentation), it has that edge over most competing technologies. Now, add to that the fact that XForms is a standard, and of course you get a real winner.

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