He is a entrepreneur and a software architect from Tel Aviv, Israel. He is also a technology freak with about 20 years experience working with computers. He is currently working on his first private initiative in the area of software development tools. His vision is to maximize the abilities of software developers by providing pragmatic tools that enable them to get fast results. Zviki has posted 36 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Project Bespin and the Future of Web UI According to Google

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Last week, Mozilla Labs unveiled yet another innovative project called Bespin. Bespin is an online code editor. I shared my opinion on Online IDEs in the past (here and here). They open new opportunities, yet, we are still far from the promised land. I don't see a great difference between Bespin and other attempts I encountered (Eclipse E4, Heruko, DevUnity). The idea is not new. Yet, there is something very interesting about project Bespin.

Project Bespin demonstrates the use of the Canvas HTML element. In a nutshell, this technique enables a completely free UI rendering. The code editor is rendered in JavaScript, not using traditional HTML tags. From the initial demo of Bespin, the UI looks very different than the UI one usually expects in Web applications. It is very responsive and very rich, much like a desktop application. It is innovative and not bound to the current browser paradigms (e.g. the auto-hiding scroll-bars).

This technology can be compared to Microsoft Silverlight and Adobe Flash/Flex. In fact, I see it as a clear contender. I noted in the past that Google considers JavaScript to be the future of web UIs (the Chrome browser is a proof) and this is just another brick in that wall. Well, we know that "Mozilla... is a charitable arm of Google" (from TechCrunch), so the connection is quite obvious. Google uses Bespin to show the developers community that the future of JavaScript-based web applications is bright. No need to switch to other technologies, we've got it all right here.

The Canvas approach has its' drawbacks. The main caveat is that it is not supported in Internet Explorer, thus, will not work for the majority of the web users. That's where Google comes to the rescue with the Explorer Canvas project which enables the Canvas tag in Internet Explorer. I didn't test Bespin on IE with that extension from obvious reasons (I use a Mac). Let's suppose that in a couple of months, Google comes up with a better GMail UI, based on HTML Canvas: the result would be either a mass migration from IE to other browsers or IE adding native Canvas support. If I had to take a guess, I would bet on the former. Microsoft is already losing the browser war. IE does not need more nails in its' coffin. 

So what can we expect next?  Probably a GWT implementation which renders the UI using an HTML Canvas rather than plain HTML, taking GWT to the next level in terms of UI richness. Imagine the power of Java with amazing UI capabilities (much nicer than current Java UI frameworks) and a thin-client deployment model. That's the holy grail right there! 

From http://blog.zvikico.com/

Published at DZone with permission of its author, Zviki Cohen.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


Maxim Zakharenkov replied on Mon, 2009/02/16 - 8:40am

Imagine the power of Java with amazing UI capabilities (much nicer than current Java UI frameworks) and a thin-client deployment model.
And we'll get back to the same old Java applets like there were in 90ies before Microsoft dropped support for Java in IE :)

Zviki Cohen replied on Mon, 2009/02/16 - 10:01am

Just take a look at Bespin. You cannot compare its' slick UI with the ugliness of Servlets. Seriously, appearance plays such a major role when it comes to web systems. 

Ivan Lazarte replied on Thu, 2009/02/19 - 12:37pm

explorer canvas is extremely slow, canvas support is buggy across implementations. you still have to test browser+os combo. what exactly would change by moving to canvas? you can manipulate pixels?

Cliff Meyers replied on Mon, 2009/02/23 - 2:12am

I'm sorry man but you don't just get it.  Not being supported on ~75% of the browser market is not a "caveat" it's an epic fail.

Flex has already solved these problems and Flash Player already has tremendous market penetration.  The only reason people waste time with silly things like this is because they have an irrational prejudice against "proprietary runtimes" (and Explorer Canvas doesn't sound much different) or new languages like ActionScript.

You guys can keep playing with these cute toys: the rest of us out there will be building real applications that deliver tremendous value to stakeholders and users alike.

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