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Rambling in the trenches – the other side – C# and stuff
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Rambling in the trenches – the other side


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Half a year ago I went from a job as a .NET developer to a job as a research librarian. While my new job still revolves around IT, my daily routines have changed somewhat: As something new, I am spending many hours a day using web based backend tools like OpenCMS and Apache Roller.

World War 1 poster

There are a lot of benefits in developing web based tools: They are potential available from any computer and deployment and maintenance can be centralized. Web based tools also reduces the complexity of having multiple platforms and versions active.

But for the people using these online tools, the experience can be frustrating!

So slow and so quirky!

One thing that strikes me is how slow most web based tools are to work with over time. And it really adds up when you work with web based tools for hours each day.

Another thing that seems to characterize a lot of web based tools is the way you have to tweak them. My OpenCMS administration gives me an error when I delete files in certain folders. And Roller messes up my HTML if I change back to the WYSIWYG editor before saving. The editor for my private WordPress blog seems to be just as lousy.

Web based tools made on the fly

I think that there are a couple of reasons why so many web based tools suck: I many of the projects I’ve been involved in as a programmer, the backend has not been properly prioritized. While the frontend was prototyped, tested, reviewed by usability folks and so on, the specifics of the backend part were often made up on the fly.

Sometime I made small administration tools intended for me only – but they ends up in the hands of the customer.

The browser is made for browsing

But even some of the best web based tools like e.g. the Google Analytics administration is no match for a well designed desktop application. There is a lot of techniques for making a web based tool behave like a Windows application: Partial updates via AJAX, client side logic with JavaScript and all kind of fancy controls to make up an appealing GUI.

Orange office

The point is to avoid time consuming post backs, and make the GUI update it self on the fly. But even with all these techniques, a web based tool is simply no match for a local application. An example is the CMS Sitecore. Every measure has been taken to make Sitecore work like a multi window application. It looks really nice – but it is still painstakingly slow.

The cloud

Most of the tools that I have mentioned here are somehow hosted locally. I host my blogs myself, and the OpenCMS and Roller blog is hosted by the library.

But many programs that I use are hosted by ‘strangers’ and available as a service over the Internet. Like e.g. FogBugz or Google Calendar.

The notion of the cloud seems to be tied to web based tool: The ideal cloud based application is independent of the computer running it. It only requires a browser. You can you access you Google documents from anywhere. But some cloud based applications actually uses a small dedicated application to be installed. Application like Dropbox has applications like this, even though they can also be used as pure web based tools.

My current project

IBM System/360

In my new hobby project (a geocaching application) I am making the administration interface as a WinForm application. The real work is still carried out on the web server, but the entire administration interface is handled locally. The WinForm application uses WebServices to communicate with the website.

Sadly, if you are using a Mac, or have restricted access to your computer and/or the net, you simply cannot use the desktop application. But if you can, you actually get an application that works properly with a responsive interface that uses worker threads and standard Windows controls – not some strange system dreamt up by a developer in the last minute before launch.

Posted in C#.

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