Flex: GWT: Developer Experience – Part 1

This is the start of a three part article focusing on my experience of using GWT and then Adobe Flex to implement versions of my UK traffic information site gTraffic.

You can compare the two by looking at the GWT version and the Flex version.

As an inital primer I will talk about the original website the GWT and Flex version were based on before getting into description of my experience of the technologies of GWT and Flex.

The intial version of the site was written using a combination of javascript and html with some AJAX to fetch and parse the data from the server side. It seems strange to contemplate that seems pretty ‘old-hat’ now but at the time it was really cutting edge. It was only just over a year ago really but how things have moved on!

The data was intially supplied from the BBC TPEG data feed which was later moved to the BBC backstage site which provides a place for mashups using the BBC data. The traffic data in TPEG format was downloaded and massaged into a simpler form using a number of Python scripts.

My intial thought was to use Java to parse the traffic data but it turned out that my ISP didn’t support this.

Instead I tried Perl but the experience was so awful I switched to Python even though my desktop developer mentality screamed against using tabs to act and formatting for block statements. The Python IDE bundled with the development kit it usable but having experience of Eclipse I settled with Pydev which had a great debugger and integrates into Eclipse really well.

The hardship of using CSS to layout the original site was a real pain. Although it looked okay it didn’t have great deal of appeal in terms of look and feel (you will have to take my word for this). I think my vision was sound as both the GWT and Flex versions adopt a similar layout but it was clearly a web page type of look and I was trying for something slicker.

The original site was written off the back of the experience I had gained in developing a few few sites using JSP and Tomcat for my employer. I had enough knowledge of html and javascript to develop a Google Maps site which took the traffic feeds from the BBC and plot traffic events on a map, plus put in a few nice touches for navigation. Struggling with CSS and layout issues didn’t make for a straightforward experience though and I suspect this is the view of more then a few developers who come initially from a background in development for desktop applications.

GWT came along at just the right time. I was looking for something that offered the ability to write an ‘application’ with real GUI controls and which ran in the browser. The added bonus was that it was using java which I already knew pretty well so it was tailor-made for my needs.

Comments

3 Responses to “Flex: GWT: Developer Experience – Part 1”

  1. Rodney on September 18th, 2007 1:03 pm

    I have been going down a similar path trying to work with RIA technologies. I like Flex a lot but ran into trouble with its ability to integrate with HTML. Some work by you and Diette/Coenraets is very welcome. One thing that seemed strange about your work was that you didn’t mention any AJAX frameworks. Unless you are comparing something like ExtJS, YUI, Dojo, etc with Flex or GWT it just doesn’t seem fair. Were you using straight Ajax?

    Rodney

  2. Administrator on September 18th, 2007 3:16 pm

    Rodney,

    I am only speaking here about my experience of using GWT and Flex to write the same application.

    The available AJAX frameworks at the time of my original adoption of GWT were much less and didn’t seem to offer the same features. Also I liked that GWT let me stay in ‘the comfort zone’ of java.

    The landscape now in terms of frameworks has expanded considerably and I would certainly not rule out the use of jQuery etc but I can’t speak from any experience.

    Al.

  3. Rodney on September 18th, 2007 5:19 pm

    Al,

    I see. I think your insights are still useful. It does bring to light the fast moving pace of the Ajax frameworks. Many of them were not around untill recently. I also noted that both jQuery and Dojo seemed to have gone through some major rewrites. I did want to mention GWT-Ext. It is a great way to gain the benefits of developing in java while using a top notch visual widget library. Thanks again for the great work on the HTML component..

    Rodney

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