Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Site Specific Browser for EPM Applications

So for the past few posts I have been talking about blurring the lines between desktop and web applications and the technologies that will get us there. And in my first post on this topic I mentioned a technology called 'site specific browsers'. Site specific browsers are just that, it is a browser window dedicated to one site or in the case of BI and EPM a web based application. The installed application gets a shortcut on the user's desktop or the start menu and is a simple click away from running. You can read more about site specific browsers and how Mozilla Labs describes their product 'Prism'.

So in doing some searches I found that there are 2 major options with site specific browsers, Fluid and Prism. Fluid is Mac only so for my testing I used Prism. I decided to throw a couple of BI applications at it and see what I thought of the user experience. (I ignored minor bugs or issues as this stuff is still not official product). So I put Workspace (9.3.1) and OBI ( in Prism and played around a bit. Here are some screen shots:

Workspace with a planning form loaded.

OBI with the default Paint Dashboard.

Both applications worked pretty well out of the box and it was nice not to have all the clutter and overhead that a browser carries with it. It was also nice to have the applications launch from a shortcut on the desktop. Some of the things I didn't like were as follows:

  1. There were times where it would have been nice to have navigation (ability to go back). This is not an issue with Prism itself, it was the fact that the application was designed to live in a browser.
  2. This does not change the application experience that much. (I did not expect it to) Basically if you are happy with the application experience this will improve on it. If you hate the way the application works then this will do little.

Overall this is a very cool concept but you are simply making web applications run as if they were desktop applications. I will use Prism for things like Google Mail or Yahoo Mail but at the end of the day, from a user experience perspective, I still prefer Thunderbird or Outlook for email. It would be cool to see if an RIA (Rich Internet Application) developed in Flex or Silverlight can run in a site specific browser…

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

More on JavaFX

OK I will be totally honest I don't have a whole lot on this one, simply because it is the newest entry in the market. It does look promising from the videos I have seen and what is being said about platform support sounds great. I just hope we can avoid all the issues I have seen over the years with JRE and version compatibility… I have signed up to preview the SDK and when I get a hold of it I will be sure to share more. I do want to share one cool feature I have seen on video. It is the ability to start with the application in the browser and then drag it to the desktop. Here the video that shows this:

The feature I am talking about is about 2:10 into the video and I think this will be a key differentiator that the other RIA (Rich Internet Application) players will quickly try to copy.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Silverlight 2.0

In my post on desktop and web convergence I said I would spend some time on each of the technologies I mentioned, so here we go. I will start out with Silverlight only because for the past 2 years I have been immersed in c# and smart clients so it was a pretty simple jump. Don't expect that after reading this post you will be an expert in Silverlight as I have only scratched the surface. I figure the best way to start is to list the pros and cons; here are some things I think fall into the pro category:

Language Support

Silverlight allows development and extensions using a verity of programming languages including JavaScript, C# and VB.Net. This will help ease the learning curve for existing developers familiar with these languages. Silverlight also has a Dynamic Language SDK that allows developers to communicate with the .NET libraries included with Silverlight. This makes it open to many other language possibilities like Python and Ruby.

IDE availability:

This is often time a con for newer technologies but for Silverlight this is a pro, it's integrated into Visual Studio 2008 it has a separate design environment of its own (Expression Studio). Studio is truly for the designer and allows for UI driven creation of animations and overall user experience. Having great IDE's for both the designer and the developer is a big plus.

Platform and browser support:

Silverlight supports many platforms and browsers. This is different than one might expect from Microsoft but Silverlight supports IE, Safari, and Mozilla and will run on both Window and the Mac. Plus there is now support for a growing list of mobile devices.

User Experience Support:

Silverlight has a wide variety of features that support a rich user experience, this combined with the power of Expression Studio make for crisp UI's. Features include; media support, panel and canvas support, animations with timelines, AJAX support, etc.

Here are some things that I considered cons:

Limited .Net Framework:

This one can go either way but for me it is a con. Silverlight comes with a limited set of the .Net framework assemblies (to keep the client install small) and for developers that are used to desktop development this will be difficult. For others new to the .Net world they this will not be a con.

Separate IDE's for Design and Development:

I am always looking for that one IDE that does it all and I tend to cross the line between designer and developer so switching in and out id Visual Studio and Expression Blend was not so smooth. I wish they would just stuff Blend into Visual Studio but I am sure many disagree on this.

Keep in mind that Silverlight 2.0 is currently in beta and like any other beta software you should use and install with care. Here are some cool Silverlight samples.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Another Desktop/Web Technology

Just as I was thinking about what technology I should start with from my last post another company decided it was time to hop on this desktop/browser train. Sun announced JavaFX at the JavaOne conference yesterday. JavaFX is the latest entry into this space and this should help to fuel innovation but will add to the confusion when trying to decide what platform to develop on. This technology along with the others has many compelling features like rich user experience, browser and desktop capabilities, and it's cross platform.

Stay tuned next week when I start to dig into each of these technologies...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Desktop and Web Convergence

This is not a new topic but it is certainly new for BI and EPM. For the past 5 or so years the focus has been on providing users with functionality while attempting to have zero or limited client deployment. In other words build your front end to run in a browser, preferably with no plugin's (HTML and JavaScript only). Unfortunately this has become more difficult as users have demanded more interactivity and performance from clients. They get this from the consumer application space; while in ITunes they use cover flow to select a song or while checking stocks with a vista gadget the chart animates open and closed. Really we could just select a song in a list view and see the stock chart in a popup window but that would not be cool nor would it differentiate the application from a competitors'. Let's face it innovative user experience is hot! Lucky for us there is now some great technology to help us meet the needs of our end users while still allowing for simple application deployment. Here are a few:

Google Gears

Adobe Air

Microsoft Silverlight

XBAP –XAML Browser Application

Microsoft ClickOnce

Site specific browsers like Fluid and Prism

To try to cover these in one blog entry would not do any of them justice, so stay tuned…