Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Web programming at a higher level of abstraction

Frameworks like Sproutcore, Cappuccino and Objective-J have given the Web programming model a huge leap. Till date one of the pet peeves of Web programmers had been the fact that the programming model was based on the native DOM and the associated accidental complexities that HTML, Javascript and CSS brought forth. The crux of the problem was not the polyglotism involved in Web development, but all these technologies were often found to be competitive with overlapping responsibilities. Frameworks like Prototype and jQuery took care of cross browser compatibilities, but still you are never sure whether to create a button in HTML or Javascript code or whether to use CSS files or apply styles in Javascript. In a summary, we have so far been trying to use lower level abstractions, which should ideally be abstracted away in higher order frameworks.

And Cappuccino does address this issue head-on. It turns polyglotism on its head and defines a common way to do things on the Web.

I was listening to the interview of the 280 North guys through a post on Ajaxian, where Francisco Tolmasky, the co-founder of 280 North, mentioned in one of the comments ..

"JavaScript does not have any way of writing applications today in the same way mature platforms like Cocoa do. Cappuccino provides you with very high level features like copy-paste (of anything), undo and redo, document management and archiving, vector graphics and animation, etc etc. when you write an application for Mac OS X or iPhone, you can truly focus *just* on your application, not whether it will work on some obscure browser or how to get something as simple as undo working, and that’s precisely what we are trying to provide."

As this Cappuccino blog post clearly indicates, the only purpose behind Objective-J was to provide the right level of abstraction for Cappuccino to be built on top of it ..

"The purpose behind Objective-J was to facilitate the development of Cappuccino, and when we originally set out to do that we simply wanted to add a few key missing features to the existing JavaScript “standard”. In other words, Objective-J is our take on JavaScript 2.0."

To me, the most important takeaway from all these is that you can now develop rich applications on the browser only without having to depend on any proprietary runtime. Google Web Toolkit has been generating compiled highly optimized Javascript since 2006, it will be really interesting to see how the compiler optimized Javascript generated by GWT compares in runtime perfromance with the on-the-fly generated Javascript offered by Cappuccino.

We are seeing more and more impetus on Javascript being touted as a compilation target. Sometime back I read that Gilad Bracha was also thinking in terms of a Newspeak port on V8. With invokeDynamic being blessed by Sun, dynamic language compilation will improve and we will be looking at more and more scripting languages targeting the JVM. And this is the right time that we embrace frameworks that promise higher level abstractions in Javascript, making the browser and the Web a more productive ecosystem.

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