Realtime Application Development Online?

A friend of mine recently sent me an email regarding Coghead. According to their website Coghead is: “A simple, powerful new way to create web-based business applications that can be used by anyone, anytime, anywhere!” This is not a new idea, however Coghead seems to be getting a lot of attention. I want to investigate Coghead in more detail, however in the meantime I wanted to post this overview of some web 2.0 online development environments. Guy Kawaski posted an article on his blog and the comments are a good overview of what people think about these types of environments.

No-code logo

Some of the pro’s of this approach:

  • Put application development in the hands of the business users. (also a con)
  • The development environment is online and always available. Customers don’t have to worry about servers, backups, etc.
  • The development environment is immediately available.
  • Most of these environments are WYSIWYG.
  • Developers can focus on developing the difficult enterprise wide applications.

…and some con’s of this approach:

  • the application is only available while you have access to the Internet and the host website is available,
  • many companies may not be comfortable storing their data at a different site,
  • potential customers may ask: “What happens to my applications and data if the company goes under?”
  • only a small percentage of development is taken up by coding, most of it is spent on design. I’m not sure if end users are the best at application design. Do end users understand abstraction and program design?

The Law of Leaky Abstractions:The following article does a great job of explaining the concept of abstraction and why “code generators” mostly fail to be successful. Here is an extract of the article — I recommend that you read the entire article.

“The law of leaky abstractions means that whenever somebody comes up with a wizzy new code-generation tool that is supposed to make us all ever-so-efficient, you hear a lot of people saying “learn how to do it manually first, then use the wizzy tool to save time.” Code generation tools which pretend to abstract out something, like all abstractions, leak, and the only way to deal with the leaks competently is to learn about how the abstractions work and what they are abstracting. So the abstractions save us time working, but they don’t save us time learning.”

OK, and now the list of online web application development environments:

Don’t forget about the following mainstream products:

These tools are more for developers, but worth a mention when discussing realtime application development environments:

[July 12, 2007 update: Magic Software, OpenSpan, and Joomla are also interesting alternatives.]Please send your comments and let me know if I missed any significant environments.

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Ruby, Squeak and Alice

A few months ago my 11 year old son asked me to teach him to program. Now I’ve tried this before — last time I pointed him to the Squeak website and said go forth and program. Unfortunately it wasn’t that easy. So over the last couple of months we’ve tried the following environments:RubyRuby is an industrial strength programming language and coupled with Ruby on Rails it is a great web app development environment. These were the steps we followed:1. Tried Ruby in your browser. My son crashed the browser environment — I’m still not sure how he did it.2. Completed the Ruby in Twenty Minutes tutorial. It took us more than 20 minutes…3. And now we are busy with a great Ruby tutorial by Chris Pine.4. Our goal is to write a Ruby on Rails app. I’ll publish the link as soon as we get there.Ruby is included in Mac OSX, however you can also download it from the Ruby website. It’s available for most operating systems. On the Mac we are using a great development environment called TextMate. A neat dashboard widget is available to view Ruby documentation. A Ruby plug-in is available for Eclipse.And finally you can download Locomotive, a complete Ruby on Rails environment for the Mac.SqueakOK, if you read my previous blog entries then you know that I’m a great fan of Smalltalk. Unfortunately my son doesn’t share my enthusiasm for Smalltalk so we haven’t spent time playing with Squeak or the etoys environment. Check out the squeakland website. Btw, this environment is included in the One-laptop distribution.AliceAlice is a 3D interactive development environment developed by the great folks at Carnegie-Mellon University. This is an excellent environment to learn OO concepts while directly interacting with your virtual world. Really cool stuff. It’s available for Mac, Windows and Linux.My son is doing great and he loves Ruby and Alice. I will keep you posted on his progress.

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Ruby on Rails – Build a blogging engine in 15 minutes!

With Ruby on Rails (RoR) it is possible to develop a blogging engine in 15 minutes. Watch this 15 minute video demo-ing RoR. The Ruby language was developed by Yukihiro Matsumoto (Matz) in 1994. According to Matz:

“Ruby is the interpreted scripting language for quick and easy object-oriented programming. It has many features to process text files and to do system management tasks (as in Perl). It is simple, straight-forward, extensible, and portable.”

I have to admit that I’ve not heard of Ruby until recently. I programmed a lot of Smalltalk and C++ in my former life as a programmer and Ruby seems to be a great OO language with great reflective capabilities. Matz also mentions that Ruby was inspired by Eiffel and Ada — languages that I studied as a student in the late 80’s and then forgot about. Reflective features and MVC are now commonplace. These features were very esoteric in the 80’s.Well back to Ruby on Rails. This framework was developed by David Heinemeier Hansson and released in July 2004. David is from Denmark and a partner in the company. I really appreciate the simply, yet powerful design of the 37signals web applications. Do yourself a favor and learn a few things from these guys.RoR is a framework to quickly develop and deploy enterprise web applications based on Web2.0 principles. It uses Ruby as a scripting language and quickly and easily generates a web application framework. You can quickly link this application to a database back-end. The beauty of RoR is the interaction with the application while developing and the rapid deployment when you are done. Rapid prototyping is back! Rapid prototyping or agile programming involving the user is a great way to quickly develop an application that is highly usable and valuable. I really enjoyed Hasso Plattner’s (SAP co-founder) recent keynote at SAPPHIRE 2006 in Orlando called (re) design (scroll to the bottom of the page for Hasso’s keynote).At some point I would like to compare RoR with SAP’s Webdynpro technology. You can find an interesting discussion on this topic and AJAX on SAP’s SDN website. This is your first hint that my plan is to relate some of the new Web2.0 technologies back to enterprise software, specifically SAP. Watch this space…More links: Attend a RoR conference in a city close to you. You can also find a number of books on Ruby and RoR on Amazon, e.g., Ruby and Ruby on Rails.Oct 26, 2007 update: Ruby and Rails are now standard in Apple’s OSX LeopardPlease give me your personal experience using Ruby or Ruby on Rails.[amtap book:isbn=0974514055][amtap book:isbn=0977616606][amtap amazon:asin=B000FK88JK]

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