Curl shows way to better GUIs

Back in the client/server era, developers dedicated great amounts of time to creating the best graphical user interfaces (GUIs) possible. But when the Web browser became "the ubiquitous client," users were sometimes asked to put up with interfaces that were both slow and kludged. Today, a handful of software vendors continue to work on the problem of making great Web interfaces; chief among these vendors, perhaps, is Cambridge, Mass.-based Curl Corp.

"We have a pretty simple mission: Presenting information to people," said Chris Lesar (left), senior director of business development at Curl. "And in doing that, we believe Curl fulfills the promise that the Internet has given. What the Curl Client/Web platform does is to bring presentation intelligence to Web-based applications by taking the power and productivity of desktop apps from the client/server era, and combining it with the low TCO [total cost of ownership] promise of Web deployment."

Developers interested in pursuing Curl solutions must have a dedication to creating user interfaces, and must also take a hack at the Curl language, which is optimized for fast client-side rendering.

Curl Corp has been busy. A Linux version of the Curl Client/Web platform was rolled out at the developerWorks conference in April, while June saw the release of a new version that included Japanese language support; new licensing agreements with Business Brain Showa-Ota (BBS) Inc., a Japanese consulting and systems development firm; and a sales partnership agreement with B-Tribe, a Swedish technology reseller.

Lesar said that previously, companies often experienced a drop-off in functionality when they put applications on the Web using a page-based HTML model. This approach, he continued, rarely took full advantage of the ever-growing power of desktop computers and, more recently, the new generation of smart mobile devices. By taking that power into account, Lesar said, users of Curl's technology find that they have a number of options.

Founded in 1998 by 12 members of the MIT community, most notably World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, Curl shipped its first products in 2001. The company is now focusing its efforts on bringing its rich client applications to new markets, both geographical and technological. One immediate target has been legacy apps that have moved to Web browsers, but which have suffered in translation.

"They can either take their legacy out to the Web and know that they can do it in a high-performing way, or build things they've never been able to build before," said Lesar. "Or thirdly, they can use it to unify the user interface. So if down the road you want to sunset one application vs. another because the user interface stays consistent, it gives you the flexibility to do that."

As an example of that second use, Lesar mentions Suunto, a Finnish company that took its expertise as a compass maker into the realm of GPS navigation. The company's problem was fitting a relatively small chunk of a massive database -- in this case, marine navigational charts -- into a powerful mobile device that was only occasionally connected to its host.

"When you're designing these applications, we're not professing that, 'OK, you move the whole database down to the client.' It's really going to be application-driven," said Lesar. "In Suunto's case, the marine maps needed to plot their course were downloaded and resident on the client device -- so as they made course corrections, they didn't have to be tethered to the Internet. You could make course corrections, re-plot where you were and you could visually see that on the map."

Lesar said that the advantages of rich client applications in an occasionally connected environment also carry over to the non-broadband world, a factor that figured into the company's recent moves to expand into Southeast Asia, Japan and China in particular.

"People are still trying to prove out some of the older technologies because of all the infrastructure investment that's out there," said Lesar, "but they're failing."


Curl Corporation

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