Monday, November 13, 2006

RIA, Echo2 and Programming Model

We, at Anshinsoft, have been working on our offering in the Reporting Solutions space - a WYSIWYG Report Designer and a full blown Enterprise Report Server. The Designer is a desktop Swing based application for designing reports, which, then can be deployed, managed and scheduled in the Enterprise Server.

As an additional plug-in, we would also like to have the Designer on the Web using the in-fashion RIA and Ajax architectural styles, which will enable users the usual flexibilities of a thin client application along with the richness that adds on to it. I have been exploring some of the architectural options towards this end, keeping in mind some of the constraints that we, as an organization have :

  • The current Designer has been implemented in Swing - we have a large programmer base who have delivered Java Swing based UIs and are familiar with the Swing programming model.

  • We do not have many Javascript programmers and as an organization are not equipped well enough to take up the seemingly daunting task of crafting a Javascript based architecture (aka client side Ajax)

  • I am comfortable with the first part of the previous point that we have a large Java programmer base. But based on the tonnes of Swing code that have been churned out in the current implementation, I am very much skeptical about the maintenability and the aesthetics of the codebase. In one of my previous posts, I had expressed my disliking of the Swing based programming model, which encourages lots of boilerplate stuff. Hence, I would like to move away from the naked model of Swing programming.

Enter Echo2

Based on the above constraints, I did some research and have ultimately arrived at Echo2 as the suggested platform for implementing the Web based Designer with a rich UI. The main pluses that I considered going with Echo2 are :

  • Completely Java based programming model, which nicely fits into the scheme of our organization expertise fabric.

  • Swing like apis which again score with respect to the familiarity metrics of the team.

  • Echo2 nicely integrates with Spring, which we use as the business layer.

  • I also considered GWT, but ultimately took on Echo2, because GWT is still in beta and does not have the same richness with respect to pre-built set of available components.


The main concern that I have with Echo2 is, once again, related to the programming model - I am not a big admirer of the naked Swing model of programming. And here is the main gotcha .. I have been thinking of the following possibilities that can give me a more improved programming model on Echo2 :

  • Think MDA, use Eclipse EMF and openArchitectureWare to design models of the user interfaces and generate Echo2 code out of it. Then I maintain the models, which look much more pragmatic than maintaining a huge boilerplate style of codebase.

  • Has someone written something similar to Groovy SwingBuilder for Echo2, which I can use as a markup.

  • Use some sort of Language Oriented Programming, maybe a small DSL using the JetBrains Meta Programming System(MPS).

  • Write a homegrown abstraction layer on top of Echo2 that incorporates FluentInterfaces like goodies and offers a better programming model.

I would really like to go for a more declarative programming model - in Echo2, the navigation and flow logic are completely embedded with the rendering part. Can I externalize it without writing lots of framework code ?

Why not WebOnSwing or similar stuff ?

I do not want to deploy the existing Swing application - it has evolved over the years and it is time we move on to a higher level of abstraction and capitalize on richer features and responsiveness of Ajax frameworks.

I would like to seek suggestions from experts on the above views. Any pointers, any suggestions that will help us make a positive move will be most welcome!

1 comment:

Debasish said...

From the blog of Dietrich Kappe at Agile Ajax .. postback ..

"Debasish has penned a thoughtful blog entry on developing with Echo2 -- in short, he doesn't like writing 'naked Swing' and doesn't want to do the same in Echo2. He has a bunch of good suggestions and provocative thoughts in his post. I think one of the easier ones to implement would be a port of the Groovy SwingBuilder to Echo2. I've always liked SwixML for Swing, but it hasn't taken off as much as Groovy for this stuff."