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Open Source UI framework comparable to Lazlo

Posted by n_alex on December 10, 2003 at 9:56 AM PST

Now, before I go on, I want to address a very strong prejudice that I've noticed in my dealings with Open Source developers. It's the old familiar sentiment that if it isn't built in Java, it ain't worth using.

That might be true for a lot of people, and I have a lot of respect for that sentiment--it's an important one for our community. We're doing more than writing software in a certain language here. What we're doing is contributing to the development of a J2EE development platform. We're building tools for each other to use. If you've got the right tools, all the jobs in the world open up for you. For instance. There are precious minerals deep in the earth waiting to be harvested. These minerals are incredibly valuable and useful in industry. But if you're up on the surface walking around with only a stone axe and a loincloth you'll never be able to do that job. Another irony about tools is that sometimes you have to acquire and master the tools before you can even learn that a job exists. The creative reapplication of tools toward new industrial pursuits is what opens up entire new markets.

Another example. When I was seven years old, nobody in the world could make a living as a multimedia internet programmer. There were no Flash designers, because there was no Flash. When I was 21, that had all changed. I knew a lot of people who were making big dollars just to play around with Flash. One of the reasons for this, perhaps the biggest reason, is that by the time I was 21, the tools had improved.

That said, let's try to keep our input streams open to the possibility that Flash is still a very useful and cool piece of software (especially for those who know how to use it), and not relegate it to the status of "web designer's toy". I'll be the first to admit that the potentials of Flash have been largely squandered on sick cartoons and the infamous "Flashturbation" sites that every budding C-Corp and their brother launched in 1999 (you know--the ones with the contrived techno scores, who desperately wanted to be 2advanced?)

Well, for a while I made a living chasing that ghost, then gave it up for a while, returned to school, read some John Milton, some Thomas Paine and some Robert LeFevre, and now I'm back at it, looking for ways to develop new and better tools. This time, however, to retain my sanity, I'm doing it without a host company (for-profit or otherwise). And this time it has proven to be a lot more fun.

So here are some of my ideas. I want to build a manageable, rules-based J2EE development framework that enables the liquid UI capabilities of Flash on the presentation side. I want this thing to stream dyanically generated XML content to the client-side application and to completely automate the persistance layer. On the client side, I want to build an abstract UI engine in which users can plug in Swiff graphics libraries. Ideally, the UI engine would be able to digest swiff files and use them to skin the entire application.

If this software is built correctly, it should allow Flash developers to design skins which overlay UI components. They wouldn't have to deal with data maintenence at all--just building innovative graphics libraries. The app should easily plug into J2EE persistence. A lot of the contrived Flash apps of the 90s were IMNSHO a result of the nigh impossibility of reaching the persistence layer without having to fork over 35,000 USD for Generator.

The tools were the problem then, and the tools are the problem now. FlashMX costs a pretty nickel, and there seems to be a shortage of Open Source Java middleware developers in the world who know Flash like the back of their hand and have experience developing abstract application frameworks. To prove that point, I'm sounding out. If there are any more of you guys out there, for God's sake, drop me a line. We'll throw a party and write some new Flash tools, or maybe Macromedia will shoot us with the money gun and comp us FlashMX development suites in return for the fruits of our Open Source loins. In the meantime, 'll fork over the 75 bucks to launch a little non-profit company so we can get started right away.

Barring that, I'd settle for SVG, but I'm not convinced yet that it's worth its spurs.

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