Saturday, February 10, 2007

Flithy rich clients, WPF XBAP and Java applets/Java WebStart

For the past two months I've been immersed in the world of .NET, C#, Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and Windows Communication Foundation (WCF). This immersion resulted from a failed attempt to build an AJAXified web application using ASP.NET AJAX tools (all the previously codenamed Atlas stuff). So far, the WPF XBAP experience has been far superior to the AJAX web experience, both on the development team and the customer. Initial conclusions from this 4.5 month gig: AJAX web applications are fine for simple applications, but it's not suitable for something as complex as a clinical care management application. Our domain model is huge and thus there's a lot of information and screens that need to built. The WPF XBAP deployment model has been boon to our productivity and the customer really likes the user experience and performance of the XBAP.

This situation has gotten me thinking that Java has most if not all of this stuff in the form of applets and Java WebStart. The Java Runtime works on nearly every platform imaginable and both Swing and SWT are more than performant in their current incarnations (Java 5 and 6). I wonder if applets and Java WebStart won't be considered more often in the coming months and years for deploying complex rich clients to the web. I've had excellent success with both applets and Java WebStart on my Ubuntu Linux and Windows XP systems. Java 6 added support for OpenGL in Swing, so some of the neat animation and effects features found in WPF may be doable in a cross-platform manner in Java.

Whether its WPF XBAP or Java applets or Java WebStart, I don't look forward to working AJAX anytime soon. I'm feeling underwhelmed by the mishmash of technologies and web framework involved in that sort of solution (CSS, JavaScript, HTML). GWT is about the only thing that gets me excited to do web development these days, mainly because it hides all the crufty JavaScript, HTML, DHTML, CSS crap from me and allows me to work in Java all the time.

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  1. Funny how only six or seven years ago everyone wanted to get away from fat clients because they where a maintenance headache. Now people are so tired of the poor user experience you get from thin clients, fat clients are get mentioned more as a viable option.

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