Sunday, May 29, 2005

XTech Browser Tech Dinner

Last Wednesday I organized a dinner for speakers at the the XTech conference in Amsterdam: we rented a boat to cruise through the Amsterdam canals. It was an interesting group of people: many Mozilla developers, people from Opera, and other browser experts such as Peter-Paul Koch. It was a lot of fun to talk to all these people. At Backbase we use the browser for everything we do, and we now had the opportunity to speak to the core developers of Mozilla and Opera. It is good to know these people in person: we were able to discuss some Firefox 1.1 issues with the engineers who are working on it. Very useful for both parties.

During the dinner I expected quite a bit of discussion about WHAT WG, XForms and the forms product of Backbase. We didn't really discuss that, maybe also because Steven Pemberton and Micah Dubinko from the XForms camp couldn't make it. So we mainly had WHAT WG people onboard, like initiator Ian Hickson, and contributor Anne van Kesteren. The next day on XTech Steven and Ian had adjacent presentations, and it became clear that both groups have their own proponents, and that the reconciliation as suggested by Micah will probably not happen anytime soon. At Backbase we have a forms model that is similar to XForms, with pure declarative markup, and focus on XML technologies such as XPath. So until a leading standard arises, it's probably best to stick to our own forms model.

At Backbase we have a new release upcoming, 3.0, and we've also demoed it during the dinner. Many people liked it, and can give it a try themselves with the free Community Edition. We also had the first builds with Opera 8 support, which pleased the Opera people, obviously.

It was also interesting to hear the discussions about the proposed new calendar plug-in for Thunderbird, Lightning: there is definitely a drive at the Mozilla team to provide a viable alternative for Outlook as soon as possible. I'd love to start using it at Backbase: together with Hula it would make a great alternative for Exchange, which we are now considering.

There was also some negative sentiment about Microsoft: not surprising with people like Håkon Wium Lie present :-). Nevertheless, most people who browse the web are still using Microsoft's Internet Explorer, so at Backbase we are maintaining a good relationship with Microsoft. And the IE7 initiative is a good development for sure, although the Avalon/XAML plans raise suspicions that Microsoft would rather do away with the Web as we know it today (not good, obviously).

I've uploaded pictures of the event to Flickr.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

New website using AJAX

Last week we launched a new version of the Backbase website, which now runs on the Backbase software (fully AJAX enabled). We've been able to tackle a number of typical AJAX challenges, as for example mentioned in the whitepaper by Luke Wroblewski.

Things we've solved:
  • Back-button
  • Bookmarks
  • Development speed
Because AJAX applications typically only have a single URL, the back-button is usually not functioning. In the Backbase software you can register changes in the user interface that should be reverted when you click on the Back-button. So you can build up a history file, and use the back- and forward-buttons to navigate through the history. Give it a try on the Backbase site.

With a single URL you might also have a problem with bookmarking. We've solved this with parameters in the URL, which are read by JavaScript that load the correct information. For example: www.backbase.com/developers loads the DevNet 'page'. Because browser don't allow us to update the URL bar, it's not possible to use Ctrl-D to add a bookmark. In a future update of the site we'll add a keyboard shortcut 'D' to add a bookmark with JavaScript.

If you do 'view source', you see that the development of the site is almost all done with extra tags, so-called B-tags. There are only a couple of lines of custom JavaScript code. Also a lot of code is in reusable skin files. If you use a B-tag, it is guaranteed to work in all browsers, so this also speeds up development.