Sunday, April 13, 2008

Exploring some lesser known Ajax GUI toolkits

I have only been exposed so far to Dojo and ExtJS, and I believe both are bleeding edge technology, provide a great user experience and are widely accepted. But there are about 50 more Ajax GUI toolkits out there. And some of them occasionally appear on my Google Ads, so out of curiosity I took a quick look at some randomly chosen ones:
  • SmartClient Ajax GUI System: Lots of widgets, but they are all table based and look desktop-like, that makes it a very Web 1.0 experience.
  • Icefaces: An Ajax GUI toolkit for integration into J2EE systems. Also lots of widgtes, looks a bit less desktop-like, but here as well I see tables (e.g. their tab container) where I think pure DIVs and a bit more CSS provide a better user experience (smother loading). I am not a J2EE guy (anymore), so I did not look closer at this product.
  • Nitobi: Their website looks nice and well organized, so I head high expectations. But I switch randomly between browsers and at the time I tried the Nitobi demos, I was using Safari 3,1. Unfortunately I could not load the demo (then I tried on Firefox and there everything worked fine and looked good). But then came the ugly part: They provide a free trial version with a 30 day evaluation period and beyond that you are expected to buy a license, prices start at $ 429 US and go up to $ 3699 for the enterprise version !!!
  • Telerik RadControls for ASP.NET: Even more expensive: prices start at $ 799 US. And you have to register on their site just to download the trial version. At least I could load the online demo, even on Safari. And it looks good, very good, nearly as good as ExtJS.
Lesson learned: there is a reason these Ajax GUI toolkits are lesser known !


Dein Bär said...

You should have a look at qooxdoo.

It allows you to write desktop like applications within the browser.

Alas if you do that and write some serious application you end up with 40-80k lines of JavaScript code.

Your boss wants it to run on IE6, IE7, Firefox, Opera, Safari.
It will run on those.

But most of those JavaScript interpreters were not designed to host a large JavaScript program, running over several days within the browser.
So you see problems.

qooxdoo does a very good job to shield you from the madness of the individual browser implementations, but it can't do magic.

Of course the next generation of browser implementations will have improvements.

But you have stuff like Adobe Flex/AIR as competitors. A commercial company who has their own similar engine and at this time is more able to provide a working platform.

So my guess is that qooxdoo is too early to really succeed, that this niche will be taken by AIR or Silverlight, not qooxdoo which can't stem its own engine.

Roberto Saccon said...

Baer, I agree that qooxdoo is one of the better ones, I was well aware of its existence just had never used it myself so far.

Silverlight and Flex come with big usability problems: As soon as they are not pure application frontends, but also host some content, people get confused, they can't interact with that content the way they are used in HTML, e.g. selecting and copy/pasting text, using browser key bindings, increasing font size, and so on.

Here just for entertainment, how much you can mess up things with Flash: