Saturday, April 19, 2008

Flash done right and on Google App Engine

Often I criticize the usage of Flash for content centric pages, because often Flash is implemented in a way it causes a disastrous user experience (from arbitrarily resizing browser to sound which you can't turn off and fonts which you can't resize, just to mention the worst mistakes). Now I came across a new project, which advocates to do Flash the right way: gaeswf by Aral Balkan, a client and server side open source framework, based on a collection of best practices for using Flash on Google App Engine, in a way that Flash does NOT suck. The proof-of concept (live demo) implements techniques such as:
  • Embedding Flash with SwfObject
  • Deep linking (based on SwfAddress)
  • Flash content that obeys browser text-size changes

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Google App Engine Team fixing issues quickly

Toying around a bit today on Google App Engine, I found a minor issue (not security related, very easy to work around and only affecting Mac users) in an add-on for the actual SDK. Only 32 minutes after I reported the issue they had fixed it !

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Amazon announced persistent storage for EC2

If Google App Engine does not provide enough flexibility for you, then there is some good news from Amazon: one of the missing pieces, persistent storage for EC2, has just been announced.

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 !

Scaling down - the least talked about feature of GAE

It launched less than a week ago and now all over the blogosphere people are discussing the Google App Engine (GAE). Most talk is about scaling up, about potential lock-ins, even if the SDK is based on open source software. Only one thing where developers seem generally to agree: with Python, Google has made a good choice (maybe those not knowing Python yet but desperately looking forward to learn it, don't know that Python dictates line indention, actually the only thing I had difficulty to get used to). That is interesting by itself, because developers usually are highly opinionated in regard to programming languages. Or is it just the early adapter mentality which is more flexible ? Anyway - in this article I want to talk about something I haven't found mentioned yet at 100 other places:

scaling down

I see a growing number of businesses reducing or eliminating their IT department by using Google Apps (gmail & Co. on custom domain) for e-mail and other standard tasks covered by the Google Apps suite. Custom built applications for streamlining their non-standard, probably also simple but business specific work-flow has been beyond the budget of small organizations. So they used the available standard tools, which are often more complex than necessary for those tasks. But now the creation and especially the maintenance of custom built web applications is getting cheaper with GAE, because problems like authentication, deployment, high availability and even data redundancy (as probably-good-enough backup-strategy) are solved already and the cost for hosting gets completely eliminated (scaling down means just few concurrent users per application, little resource usage and the app will probably stay within the quotas for free usage of GAE). So the saved money from traditional in-house or outsourced IT administration, spent on development of custom applications will allow organization to improve their efficiency. And Google of course still will make good money with this scenario, because some companies will choose Google Apps Premier Edition over free/limited edition and will pay Google 50 $ per user account / per year.