My Thoughts Exactly

DOA RIAs: Curl, OpenLaszlo and Web 2.0 Noir

Over on his ZDnet column Universal Desktop Ryan Stewart, who describes himself as a Rich Internet Application mountaineer, makes his annual predictions about where the Web is going. Prediction number seven caught my eye:

7. The days of smaller RIA technologies are numbered. I hate to say it but I think technologies like OpenLaszlo and Curl will continue to gain traction in some niches but won’t see widespread adoption. Those companies will still bring revenue but Microsoft and Adobe are pushing too hard and putting too many features into their runtimes for the smaller companies to keep up.

I hate to say it but I think he’s right1.

Watching RIA trends play out is a bit like watching a Film Noir movie (DOA comes to mind), where the good guys don’t win and the bad guys prosper– but not because of any particular genius on their part, merely because of inexorable fate.

I observe this particular web-noir movie from the perspective of an extra actually on the screen. I play a guy cut down by a stray bullet for the crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. For I was manager of information architecture at Curl from April 2000 until being laid off along with most of the engineering staff in April 2002, and I was the sole doc guy on the OpenLaszlo project from April 2003 until being laid off November 2007 as Laszlo Systems gave a quarter of its staff the axe.

Below the fold, a few brief observations on the Web 2.0 drowning pool. Said observations are undoubtedly greatly corrupted by time and rationalization, so take them with whatever quantity of salt you like. I’m just recording them for my own record.


(1)Note: although Stewart now works for Adobe, he’s always been fair-minded about competing technologies. I don’t see him as a shill.

UPDATE: edited a few sentences for clarity & one new comment at the end, in response to private reactions to this entry.

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My Thoughts Exactly

OpenLaszlo 4 is out, you rock stars!

From the brilliant post on the OpenLaszlo project blog (man, that is a well-written blog entry! Wonder if there was a ghost writer involved?)

We are extremely pleased and proud to announce that OpenLaszlo 4.0 is now available. This is the first official release of the new multi-runtime edition of OpenLaszlo, complete with a native browser DHTML (“ajax”) runtime, a heavily revamped Flash (7, 8, 9) runtime, and much more. With OpenLaszlo 4.0, you can compile source LZX applications for any supported target with a single mouse click.
OpenLaszlo 4.0 is available from http://www.openlaszlo.org/download

This release of OpenLaszlo is built on a new kernel architecture that abstracts away platform differences. Also, with OL4, we have switched to an inheritance-based class system that tracks the emerging ECMAScript 4 standard. These new language features have been implemented in the LFC core to support (and extend) JavaScript 2 `class` declarations portably. This means that the OpenLaszlo platform is well engineered to keep up with emerging JavaScript standards and to support new target runtimes.

In addition to literally hundreds of improvements to all aspects of the platform software and documentation, we have added new features, such as support for streaming media. The documentation tools have been re-implemented in order to to make them easier to maintain and also to give us more possibilities for arranging and accessing the data in the Reference Manual. Eventually, this will allow us to provide better cross-referencing, better indexing, more user control over presentation of information, and more options for printing and displaying the documentation.

We have put a lot of effort into improving our open source processes. The tools we use to build, test, and analyze OpenLaszlo have matured significantly with OL4. We have changed to using Subversion, for source control, in order to enable a more open development process. The build is now based on ant 1.6.5, rather than ant 1.5. We have created a new testing tool, lztest, for automated testing, to complement lzunit, our tool for application- and component-level testing. We have created a suite of benchmarks and benchmark analysis tools. By any criterion, this is the most ambitious and significant release in the history of OpenLaszlo.

The OpenLaszlo project aspires to be truly open and inclusive. Raju Bitter, our OpenLaszlo community manager, is on board to answer questions, streamline processes, and generally make it easier for you to play a vital part in this platform’s success.
Post questions and comments to laszlo-user@openlaszlo.org or to the OpenLaszlo Forum. Please report bugs, especially regressions from OpenLaszlo 3.x, to our bug database.

OpenLaszlo 4.0 is the culmination of a project that began more than a year ago, and it embodies the contributions of dozens of community members from around the world. Thank you, and congratulations to all of us!

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My Thoughts Exactly

The Legend of OpenLaszlo Legals

I work for Laszlo Systems, Inc.., on OpenLaszlo, “the premier open-source platform for rich internet applications.” For the last year I’ve been working on the Legals project, which is a re-implementation of the entire platform — compiler, doctools, runtime-specific kernels, common core runtime libraries, you name it, while keeping APIs intact– in order to support compilation of source applications in our LZX language to arbitrary runtimes, starting with Flash and DHTML, but with SVG and Java on the horizon. This undertaking has been compared to the magician’s trick of pulling the tablecloth out from under the place settings — while dinner is being served.

Over the last calendar year, within the small but growing world of web application developers, the Legals project has gained increasing attention. Technorati shows that bloggers in China, Russia, France, Germany, Spain, Brazil, and elsewhere are paying close attention to our every move.

Amusingly enough, these very sharp developers have grasped the essential idea of the project, but have been bewildered by the project name, “Legals”. Even within the company Laszlo Systems, those not invloved on the project have been intruigued by the moniker. Well, yesterday we essentially began our Beta program, and the Legals codename is being retired in favor of the much more normative (and bland) “OpenLaszlo 4 Beta Release 1.”

Below the fold you’ll find a little story I wrote for internal consuption at Laszlo about how the code name “Legals” came to be. If you like geek arcana, I think you’ll like this. Some tidbits for context: Everbody mentioned is a hardcore developer, except for Amy, the erstwhile program manager, and me, the technical writer. David is the CTO and founder of the company, our big cheese. Max is also a founder of the company. Oliver is the original designer of the LZX language. (The OpenLaszlo website can tell you more about all these people.) I’ll only add that I’ve been in this business since 1980, and the people mentioned below the fold are the smartest developers I’ve ever worked with. Finally, to set context, I might admit that a year ago our company’s financial situation was, shall we say, not especially propitious. Since then we’ve put millions in the bank and things are really looking up. But a year ago, things were more scary.

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My Thoughts Exactly

OpenLaszlo to Java Mobile

OpenLaszlo is a platform for making Rich Internet Applications. The “production” version of OL (presently at release 3.3, I believe) allows you to compile to (Flash) swf7 or swf 8. OpenLaszlo version 4.0, project name “Legals”, will support, in addition, compilation to DHTML (aka “Ajax”). Legals is in “pre-beta”; an official Beta program will be announced soon. To see how far along the project is, you can go to the OpenLaszlo site and play with a variety of demos that run pretty much equally well in either Flash or Ajax. Sometime next year, probably in the spring, OL version 4.something will support Flash 9.

Now here comes an announcement of Project Orbit from Sun Mircosystems, to compile OpenLaszlo apps to Java Mobile Edition. Java ME runs on *billions* of devices, notably cell phones.

I work for Laszlo Systems, Inc, the creator and main supporter of OpenLaszlo. I’m responsible for all the OL documentation. It’s a good job. It’s cool to see the whole idea of “write once run everywhere” really starting to become real. Flash 9 which is based on the next version of ECMAscript/JavaScript, is different enough from earlier versions of Flash that it really constitutes a separate runtime. For those of you keeping score, that means that OL has active projects underway to support four distinct runtimes: Flash 7/8, Flash 9, DHTML (Ajax), and Java. Yes, there will be locally distinct differences in some applicaitons depending on the target runtime. But in general, OpenLaszlo applications truly are runtime-agnostic.

It’s also fun see the OL community growing and becoming real. There are now several developers who have “commit” priveliges to the code base who do not work for Laszlo Systems — including developers from Europe and Japan.

Note that OL is developed completely in the open. Anybody can sign up for the mailing lists on which we discuss architecture and implementation. The “nightly build,” which incorporates each successive day’s work, is avaible for free download. In other words, even though “Legals”, our Ajax port, is not yet in an official Beta program, you can still get your hands on the code if you’re the kind of person who likes to read code to see what’s going on.

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