Rich Internet Client Development gets Richer

OpenLaszlo represents something of a revolution in “rich Internet client” platforms. Using Laszlo, you write your application using XML and JavaScript, and then your app runs in the user’s web browser. The result is that you can write applications with the rich user interface capabilities of desktop client software, and the “zero-install” web deployment of HTML.

In theory, OpenLaszlo applications can use any technology platform, though at the moment only browsers with Flash are supported. There are, however, plans and/or rumors of a Swing/applet-based Laszlo client, one day in the indeterminate future, sometime, maybe. The chances are that it won’t be needed though, because the Flash client works just fine.

On the server-side, your XML “program” is served up using a Java servlet. The neat thing is that you can also use JSP templates to create the XML “on the fly”. This opens up all sorts of possibilities for dynamically generated applications.

OpenLaszlo Dashboard
OpenLaszlo 'Dashboard' demo application

The XML configuration is actually pretty straightforward to create. The OpenLaszlo download includes copious documentation and lots of examples – including a very cool “Laszlo in 10 Minutes” demo (also on their website), in which you can modify the XML for each part of the demo via your web browser, reload, and see the application change in a matter of seconds. No expensive (in terms of time wasted) repackaging and redeploying needed!

However, spending your time fiddling with XML files to create an entire project's UI may not sound too appealing. Luckily, IBM have dived in from left-field with IDE for Laszlo. IDE for Laszlo isn’t open source like OpenLaszlo itself, but it’s a technology preview which – for the moment at least – can be downloaded for free.

Essentially a plug-in for Eclipse (hey this is IBM, what did you expect!), IDE for Laszlo just makes the development of Laszlo applications that bit nicer and more convenient, with the creature-comforts that modern day IDE users have grown accustomed to.

Version 1 of IDE for Laszlo was pretty good; but with version 2, IBM have added a wysiwyg editor, user interface improvements, and – not least – support for the latest OpenLaszlo 3.0.

Best grab it before IBM come to their senses and start charging for it...

About the Author

Matt Stephens is a senior architect, programmer and project leader based in Central London. He co-wrote Agile Development with ICONIX Process, Extreme Programming Refactored, and Use Case Driven Object Modeling with UML - Theory and Practice.