2008-12-21

The future of Ajax

GUI layout in Ajax goes like this: You are fine as long as long as you have absolute values (“this sidebar is 300 pixels wide” etc.), but when it comes to relative sizing (“I want the toolbar to be as small as possible and the content to take up the remaining space”) one is in for a world of pain. After having spent way too much time in that world recently, I wondered when web browsers are finally going to implement better layout features. After all, this problem has been largely solved (really nice layout managers for Java are JGoodies Forms and MiG Layout). Here is what I found:
  • The OpenAjax Alliance has voted on a browser wishlist that includes a lot of interesting details. This wishlist is supposed to guide browser vendors towards features that make sense for the Ajax community. Not suprisingly, layout issues rank high on that list.
  • The Future of CSS and the end of 3.0: This article is almost one and a half years old, but it still rings very true to me.
  • XUL is a Firefox-based widget toolkit that can be programmed in JavaScript. It avoids many of the Ajax CSS problems, because it has specifically been designed for applications (and not for hypertext). Firefox-only, but it should not feel alien to Ajax developers because it does not stray to far from browser technologies. While some test code for using XUL via GWT is out there, I wish there was something more usable.
Update 2008-03-16: The browser wishlist entry “Better UI Layout” links to a css-flexbox proposal that borrows layout ideas from XUL.

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