Inside SWT

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The GUI world is a mess

It's no secret that the GUI world is a mess. It was bad on the desktop, but it's worse on the web. Products that have both a desktop and web presence need to build and maintain both. That's two messes instead of one.

Web and desktop applications, though maddeningly similar, have certain key differences. First off, there are two fundamental types of web applications. The first and the majority, are traditional hyperlink-based applications. They provide access to remote content using the familiar "document browsing" web metaphor. The second and the new breed, are desktop-like applications that create and manipulate complex content. They use the familiar "stay in the same window" desktop metaphor. Hybrids of the two are possible.

Desktop-like web applications, especially AJAX ones, are difficult to build, debug and maintain. That's why there is such excitement over things like web spreadsheets and word processors that, while functional, are so basic they would be laughed off the desktop.

This concludes today's edition of: Stating the Obvious.



  • any plan for a swt for web-apps? ;)

    By Blogger Diego, at 9:20 AM  

  • That would be e4.


    By Blogger Steve, at 10:17 AM  

  • We should all just crawl back under the green screens which we know and love from yesteryear. Ah, ISPF, where are you now?

    By Blogger AlBlue, at 12:41 PM  

  • Steve, if I had a life, I wouldn't have seen your blog until Monday, but I saw it today. I'm glad to see you're actively blogging again; two in less than a week. Where are the pictures. :-P

    I think of you whenever I refuctor anything these days...

    By Blogger Ed Merks, at 12:51 PM  

  • web spreadsheets and word processors that, while functional, are so basic they would be laughed off the desktop

    I disagree. Google Docs is pretty slick, collaborative (in real time and by email notification), and for my money, provides all the function I regularly use in MS Excel, MS Word, OO Writer, or OO Calc.

    By Blogger nickb, at 1:18 PM  

  • Nick, it's disturbing to see you don't have a life either. I hope I've not been a bad influence.

    I think Steve's point is best understood by answering the question: If these Google tools weren't on the web, but rather needed to be installed on the desktop, would you actually choose to use them instead of one of the other free or paid-for alternatives? It seems unlikely and I assume Steve is suggesting it's even laughable.

    By Blogger Ed Merks, at 1:23 PM  

  • Well, this weekend has been used for trying out Virtualbox so I can play with Chrome, so it's part "not having a life" part "being a geek on a day where it's disgustingly humid outside."

    That aside, yes, if Google Docs was a desktop app that would run on X, I'd install it. The collaboration aspects can't be overemphasized, and I like the fact that it's not overloaded with features I'll never use, but instead has great import/export options. The last version of Word/Excel I used was 2002 (no different from 2000 or 98 'cept that the HTML export options were improved); I just recently upgraded to OO 2.4, and can't see anything new in it since the 1.x versions except that it's faster and it's been retouched a little.

    Regardless of the UI aspects, for me the real reason to select an app (online or desktop) is how well it works, how stable it is, and how little it annoys me. Eyecandy be damned -- am I productive when I'm using the app?

    By Blogger nickb, at 1:32 PM  

  • Ed, that is my point exactly.


    By Blogger Steve, at 3:41 PM  

  • Nick, I like simple things just like you, but applications compete on (mostly dumb) features. Perhaps web applications will reverse this trend. We can only hope.


    By Blogger Steve, at 3:56 PM  

  • A) Everything is difficult, especially building desktop applications.

    B) Debugging web applications (especially Dojo) can be considered cruel and unusual punishment. You can hardly set a breakpoint. Firebug to the rescue? Sure but it's no JDT.

    What happened to Powerbuilder?

    By Blogger m@, at 6:58 PM  

  • So let's do two completely different difficult things instead of one?

    By Blogger Steve, at 11:59 AM  

  • I have less of a life than Ed apparently, since I'm two weeks behind on planeteclipse.

    Steve, I completely agree. Web apps mostly make me angry. So what technologies do you like for making web apps (besides the future e4)?

    By Blogger Doug Gaff, at 10:03 AM  

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