ITConversations Interview with David Temkin about OpenLaszlo

Here's an interesting audio interview with Dave Temkin, CTO of Laszlo Systems. They cover some important topics and Dave makes some great points that explain why OpenLaszlo is so exciting.

They discuss why Laszlo was open sourced, why open source software is so important, what the ideas behind Laszlo's design are, why Laszlo uses Flash, how it actually operates at a higher level independent of Flash, what the technologies that led to the Laszlo application language were, how Laszlo integrates open standard technologies, how it relates to AJAX and DHTML, which companies and applications use Laszlo, which software development tools support Laszlo, how the user base is growing now that it's open source, what kinds of reusable components and widgets are Laszlo Systems developing, what opportunities exist for web developers and user interface designers, and where Laszlo is headed in the future.

There's a lot I like about OpenLaszlo. It has all of the advantages and none of the problems of the NeWS Window System, which was a technological success that failed because it was proprietary. I was daydreaming about having a system like Laszlo in 1998, and while I was intrigued by Flash, I avoided it for all the obvious reasons. But nothing can hold a candle to Flash's market penetration, graphical quality, and consistency across platforms.

The important thing about OpenLaszlo, which will ensure its long term success, is that it doesn't lock you into the Flash player, even though it takes advantage of Flash as a standard ubiquitous runtime. Laszlo is abstract from the Flash player, and it will output to other platforms over time as they mature, such as DHTML, Java and .NET.

Laszlo is also 100% Buzzword Compliant: it's a declarative constraint based prototype object oriented JavaScript programming model, with xml-centric distributed asynchronous data binding and replication. (Too bad "DCBPOOJSPMWXCDADBAR" doesn't spell anything cute like "AJAX".)

The interview is an audio "podcast," and there's no text transcript available, but here's the blurb about it:

Before AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) had a name, there was Laszlo Systems, a software tools developer using AJAX-like methods along with with Macromedia's Flash player to deliver richer Web experiences. David Temkin tells us why he chose the Flash player as a platform. Laszlo went open source and chose IBM's Common Public License as it was flexible enough to fit their needs without curbing commercial use.

David plans to leverage rich client environments other than Flash Player, such as DHTML, Java and .Net and shares his about thoughts about Eclipse, the recent Adobe/Macromedia merger, refactoring the desktop user interface and calendar interoperability. He also explains why Flash is not an ideal platform for mobile devies and desktop applications and compares Laszlo Blog Boxes to widgets in Apple's Dashboard and Yahoo's Konfabulator.

PostScriptish interpreter in Laszlo

Today, Grig and I were discussing how to evaluate arbitrary mathematical expressions in Laszlo applications, in the absence of "eval".

The Flash runtime doesn’t support parsing math expressions with infix notation like "(1 + 2) * 10" – that would require the Laszlo compiler, or a lot of nasty JavaScript parsing code.

I think it would be easy to implement a simple rpn stack machine like PostScript, that used string.split(" ") to break a string apart into tokens, which Flash can do fast.

So I hacked up this Laszlo interpreter class that behaves almost but not quite completely unlike a PostScript interpreter.

Transmogrifier OLE Automation Documentation

This is the documentation for the OLE Automation Interface to Transmogrifier (version 2.1.2 and greater).

Transmogrifier's OLE Automation interface enables it to be used "behind the scenes" by scripts, web servers and other programs like RugOMatic, to create and modify Sims objects. It can also export previews of Sims objects. This OLE Automation interface makes it possible to develop other tools and web services that use Transmogrifier, with scripting languages like JavaScript and Python.

RMS Essay: Come Celebrate the Joy of Programming, with the World's Most Unbureaucratic Computers.

This is an essay written a while ago (1986 or so) by Richard M Stallman (RMS), about his experiences at the MIT AI Lab, and the story of the Lisp Machine Wars.

Machine Room Folk Dance, Thursday at 8pm.
Come Celebrate the Joy of Programming,
with the World's Most Unbureaucratic Computers.
(There were only five of us dancing, but we had a good time.)

My first experience with computers was with manuals for various languages that I borrowed from counselors at camp. I would write programs on paper just because of the fascination of the concept of programming. I had to strain to think of what the programs should do, because I had nothing to supply me with a goal except that I wanted to program. I wrote programs to add up the cubes of a table of numbers in several assembler languages at various times.

The first actual computers I met were IBM 360's, at the IBM New York Scientific Center, when I was a student in high school. There I quickly developed interest in language design, operating systems and text editors. Hired for the summer to write a boring numerical analysis program in Fortran, I surprised my boss by finishing it after a couple of weeks and spent the rest of the summer writing a text editor in APL.

I also quickly manifested a lack of proper reverence for authority. The whole center had been denied access to the IBM computer in the building, and we had to use slow telephone connections to the Cambridge Scientific Center. One day an IBM executive came to tell us about the work various IBM scientific centers were doing, and finished with, "Of course you all know the important work being done here." I asked him, "If our work is so important, why can't we use the computer in this building any more?" After the meeting, my friends told me they had wanted to say such a thing but were afraid of reprisals! Why? Certainly nothing happened to me as a result. They seem to have learned the habit of cowering before authority even when not actually threatened. How very nice for authority. I decided not to learn this particular lesson.

Mona's Eyes: Classic NeWS Hack Rewritten in Open Laszlo

Pat Lashley wrote the legendary "monaeyes" hack for NeWS, which Sun shipped with Open Windows, and Anne Dianna wrote about in her story "Mona's Eyes".

I couldn't resist the impulse to recreate Mona's Eyes in OpenLaszlo.

OPML Site Map Based on Drupal Taxonomy

I've just implemented a Drupal module that renders an OPML site map, based on the sitemenu taxonomy tree.

Each taxonomy term has an outline node, which contains child nodes. The first child shows the term's description, and has a link to the term's web page. Subsequent children are links to articles directly related to that term, followed by recursive outlines of sub-terms.

Dave Winer put my OPML site map feed into his OPML World Outline, where you can browse it as html, and OPML Search has automatically indexed the content on my site! That's quite cool, and it's just the tip of the iceberg -- many interesting applications are possible!

Applying XML to Describing User Interface Layouts and Behavior and Constraints.

This is a message I sent to Paul Haberli a several years ago, brainstorming some ideas for an XML based scripting language. More recently, after discovering OpenLaszlo, I ran across this email, and it made me realize why I was so happy to find Laszlo, which embodies many of these ideas!

From: Hopkins, Don [mailto:Hopkins, Don]
Sent: Sunday, November 08, 1998 3:06 AM
To: paul@isdn-balla.corp.sgi.com
Cc: dhopkins@maxis.com
Subject: RE: http://reality.sgi.com/grafica/motion/

I think something cool to do, would be to apply XML to describing user interface layouts and behavior and constraints.

It would have to describe the interfaces and connections between the components, as well as the graphical layout and properties.

It should have a general purpose message passing model that is independant of any scripting language, and you could also embed scripts in the xml in different language like is currently done with html.

But you should be able to do a lot without even resorting to scripts, just hooking components together.

And then if course I want to design a visual programming language in XML.

The October Surprise: The Iranian Hostage Rescue Mission, and the 1980 Presidential Election

The October Surprise:
The Iranian Hostage Rescue Mission, and the 1980 Presidential Election

By Don Hopkins, December 1988.

I. Iran under the Shah

The Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, came to power in 1953, thanks to a CIA-supported coup. The Shah's friendship and cooperation was extremely important for American foreign policy -- it gave the U.S. much influence in the region.

Iran is in extremely strategic position, adjacent to the Soviet Union and Persian Gulf countries. It also has enormous amounts of oil and money.

In accordance with the Nixon Doctrine, the United States sold weapons to the Shah, who used them to maintain the stability of his regime, and protect US interests. Arms were an extremely important part of Iranian-American relationship.

Pushy Bounce Window Mixin

;;; -*- Mode: LISP -*-
;;;
;;; Pushy bounce window mixin
;;; Implemented for the Lisp Machine with Flavors
;;; By Don Hopkins

(defflavor pushy-bounce-window-mixin (x-vel y-vel gravity friction proc delay)
           ()
  :gettable-instance-variables
  :settable-instance-variables
  :initable-instance-variables
  (:required-flavors tv:window))

(defflavor pushy-bounce-lisp-listener
        ()
        (pushy-bounce-window-mixin tv:lisp-listener))

Designing to Facilitate Browsing: A Look Back at the Hyperties Workstation Browser

Designing to Facilitate Browsing: A Look Back at the Hyperties Workstation Browser

By Ben Shneiderman, Catherine Plaisant, Rodrigo Botafogo, Don Hopkins, William Weiland.

Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory
A.V. Williams Bldg., University of Maryland
College Park MD 20742, U.S.A.

Abstract

Since browsing hypertext can present a formidable cognitive challenge, user interface design plays a major role in determining acceptability. In the Unix workstation version of Hyperties, a research-oriented prototype, we focussed on design features that facilitate browsing. We first give a general overview of Hyperties and its markup language. Customizable documents can be generated by the conditional text feature that enables dynamic and selective display of text and graphics. In addition we present:

  • an innovative solution to link identification: pop-out graphical buttons of arbitrary shape.
  • application of pie menus to permit low cognitive load actions that reduce the distraction of common actions, such as page turning or window selection.
  • multiple window selection strategies that reduce clutter and housekeeping effort. We preferred piles-of-tiles, in which standard-sized windows were arranged in a consistent pattern on the display and actions could be done rapidly, allowing users to concentrate on the contents.

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