Igor's Blog

"... no matter what they tell you, it's always a people problem!"

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Web Interface


Discussing the implementation of a user web based interface using JavaScript, CSS or Java Portlets.

by Igor Stoyanov

Note: This blog entry was before AJAX era. It sounds funny reading it today, but I would say it was kind of advance at the time when using javascript was considered evil.

Properly done web page design could be very important for the success of a given web application project. There were a couple of alternatives here which includes different compromises between portability, user satisfaction as well as performance issues. One possible way of implementing user web interface was using a new java specification for building web portals, called portlets. After very basic examination of this technology I decided not to use it for a couple of reason:

1) A request to the server is post every time a user wants to minimize, maximize or do something with the appearance of a particular portlet. This makes the overall performance of the web site to appear not very satisfactory. As an example I could give the new Loyola web based system – LOCUS. I don’t know if the provider, PeopleSoft, had used portlets but the site responding in such a way. Even for very simple operation as expanding of a tree structured menu, which doesn’t need any processing by the server, a request to the server is made and the whole page should be loaded again. This makes their web site looks very slow and a user experience is not very satisfactory, especially if the user uses dial up internet access. Since, I want a user to fill the web site very alive and responsive this was a major issue against using portlets. However, I suspect that later in the project I could encounter some transactional and other issues related to a web portal to be achieved in not so elegant way as if I decided on using portlets on first place. I have to come back to this particular choice later in the project in order more fully to estimate the benefits of using or not using portlets as web interface framework.

2) Another side of using portlet is that as a new technology, there are many different implementations and portable issues related with that.

Because of all stated above, I decided on using CSS and JavaScript as primary user interface technology. Although JavaScript and CSS are not very portable among different browsers and some of the users could disable JavaScript, I decided on using them only for web interface operation related to the feel and look of a web page. This would make the web site look more responsive for the users and overall more users would be satisfied than having problems with the web site.

In the process of implementing the web interface, I succeed in achieving my goals about the look and feel of the web interface. I believe that working with JavaScript together with CSS was sati factorable for me and the combination of these two technologies could enable you with the ability to implement very powerful features for your web site interface.

I used JavaScript and CSS for minimizing, maximizing and deleting of a different box window. Also, the state of the page layout and the different box windows are stored as cookies, so that every time a user go to the web site, he/she we see the same page layout that he/she left before closing of the web browser.

However, I didn’t implement with JavaScript any essential function concerning processing any user information. Even if JavaScript is disabled, a user would be able to use all major functions of the web site; just the experience of using this web application would be a little less satisfactory.

As a conclusion, I would like to say that looking at other very popular web portals like http://my.yahoo.com and Road Runner using JavaScript, CSS and other not so portable technologies like Java applet, Macromedia and so on are very heavily presented in order to make user interaction very fulfilling. Thus, I believe that I made a good choice with JavaScript but I will see how it would integrate with Java Server Faces in the later phases of the project.

|| Igor, Wednesday, September 15, 2004

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