the markITeer

Archive for the ‘talking the talk’ Category

Adobe AIRs Apollo

Posted by the markITeer on June 12, 2007

Adobe AIRYesterday, Adobe released a beta version of its framework for Rich Internet Applications. The framework, previously known by the codename ‘Apollo’ is now called ‘AIR’ : Adobe Integrated Runtime. Shame that they gave it such a ‘techy’ name, because it’s actually something really pretty: It allows you to port Rich Internet Applications from the web to the desktop.

And so the lines between Internet and desktop applications are starting to blur…

AIR is a small (9MB) piece of software you have to install on your computer. Once installed, you’re ready to run any AIR application available. Think of it like the Flash plug-in: you install it once and you can see all flash-enabled websites. The beauty is that, just like Flash, AIR applications are also platform-independent. After you installed your version of AIR, you can run any AIR application you want on your desktop, whether you’re on Mac or PC!

To create AIR applications, Adobe pushes of course it’s own Flex development environment, which is kind of the programmers equivalent of Flash aimed towards creating Rich Internet Applications. But you could also use the plain old HTML and JavaScript web technologies (and AJAX) to built your web application and port it to the desktop using AIR. Needless to say that AIR will also be fully supported by Adobe’s Flash and DreamWeaver products in the new CS3 product suite…

To make the story complete, Adobe teamed up with Google to deliver real off-line capabilities to online applications using Google’s recently launched Google Gears. This open-source browser plugin installs a very light-weight database on your computer that can be used when online applications -which often depend on a database- are taken offline. As an example of this, Google made it’s own RSS reader available offline. If you have a Google Reader account, be sure to check out the ‘Offline’ link at the top of the application. It allows you to read your RSS feeds even when you’re not connected to the Internet!

Although all this may sound very technical, it really is the next big killer app out there. And what’s more: it’s a nice example of the convergence trend going on between Internet applications and desktop applications. It’s a new game and all the big boys are playing: Adobe (AIR), Google (Google Gears), Microsoft (SilverLight), Sun (JavaFX), …Time to place your bets…

Here’s a demo of the eBay AIR application given some time ago by Mike Downey from Adobe:

To test it yourself, download the AIR beta from http://labs.adobe.com/downloads/air.html and check out some neat examples (at this point, the eBay desktop example shown in the video is not live yet).

Posted in talking the talk, Web 2.0 | Leave a Comment »

the Bush Files: Web Services

Posted by the markITeer on June 6, 2007

The Bush FilesThis post is part of a series of things ‘everybody-assumes-you-know-but-actually-you-don’t-have-a-clue’.
I call them : the Bush Files.
Today : Web Services

Although there are a lot of interpretations of the term ‘web services’, it’s most commonly used to describe a set of functionalities of an application that are made available to other applications over the Internet.

For example: Google has a web service allowing you to use their famous search capabilities from within your own web application. You might create your own search box, ask Google for the results of the search via the web service, and show the results any way you like on your web page. Or you might use the web service of Google Maps to (programmatically) ask Google for a map of your region, mark your house, your cafe and the place you walk the dog and publish the result on your website. Schematically, this would look like this:

Web Services

It doesn’t always have to be this visible though: You could also use a web service to e.g. store information in some database somewhere on the web every time a user fills out a form on your website, as pictured below.

Web Services

Applications talking to each other via functions that the applications made available, is not new. The common name for this in the programming world is API: Application Programming Interface, or a way for applications to programmatically interface with each other. Add the web in between the applications, and you understand why Web Services are also often referred to as “Web API‘s”.

Typically, the communication between the applications over the Internet will be done through SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol): a set of rules (or ‘protocol’) designed to transfer data in a specific dialect of XML over the Internet. So the applications basically talk XML to each other! And a description of the functionalities that can be used, is made available in a WSDL file (Web Services Description Language), which is basically… also XML (click here for the Google search WSDL, you can find functions in there like ‘doGoogleSearch’ and ‘doSpellingSuggestion’).

There are a lot of issues involved in creating and using web services, none of the least is security. But overall it has opened up a lot of possibilities and nowadays powers a great lot of the Service Oriented Architecture (see ‘Web 2.0 unraveled‘) pillar of Web 2.0.

Posted in talking the talk, the Bush Files, Web 2.0 | Leave a Comment »

Web syndication: on RSS, Atom, Kings and Queens

Posted by the markITeer on May 29, 2007

Why do people visit a website? What makes them return? What makes them talk about your website? Or link to it?
Relevant content is the number one treasure on the web everybody is looking for. Yes, the old saying still goes : “content is King”. And now the King got himself some nice looking Queens: meet RSS and Atom.

But first a couple of words on web syndication in general. Web syndication means that you offer your most recent content (“What? My precious content?”), preferably for free (“WHAT?!”) to the web community for them to incorporate into their websites or to read via special readers. Of course, you will only offer content that is not sensitive. And you’ll probably just give them a title, a brief summary and a link to the full article… on your website (” Ahhh! 🙂 “). In other words: you use your content as some sort of advertising to drive traffic to your website.

The technology used to achieve this is plane old XML: on your website you offer your (stripped-down) content in XML format. This is called a feed. Typically, you would make it accessible from one of the well-known logo’s, like or , of which the second one lately is becoming more and more wide-spread (see also http://feedicons.com/). Anyone can then embed this feed in his own website (like I did with the LUON blog on the right), or add it to his feed reader (or ‘feed aggregator’), an application used to easily view and follow feeds from different websites (did you already check out Google reader!?). This is also referred to as ‘subscribing‘ to a feed. Take note that because your feed only contains your content without layout, the subscriber can present it in any layout he wants!

The XML you offer must follow a couple of rules. You must use predefined tags and structures (ie an XML schema) to describe your content, so that everybody can ‘understand’ what you’re talking about: what the title is, what the summary is etc.

There are currently two ‘standards’ around : RSS (Really Simple Syndication) and Atom (in walk the Queens). Both are in fact XML schema’s describing how you could structure your XML and which tags you could use to offer your content as a feed. RSS uses ‘item’ to describe an article, Atom uses ‘entry’. RSS uses a ‘description’ tag for the summary, Atom uses a ‘summary’ tag. And so on, and so on. For a detailed comparison between the two, read Tim Bray’s comparison piece. That’s why you often see two icons : one for RSS, and one for Atom.

Finally: take a look at this fun video introduction to RSS posted on YouTube:

Posted in talking the talk | 1 Comment »

Zamzar

Posted by the markITeer on May 24, 2007

ZamzarJust discovered a nice little tool on the net : Zamzar.
Via the website, you can automatically convert files from one type into another. Eg. from MS Word into PDF, from GIF into JPG, … You can even convert any YouTube movie into a downloadable video format! How about that! Just follow the 4 simple step, wait a little and you receive an email with a link to the converted file.

This kind of applications you can use over the Internet, without having to download or install anything, are in web 2.0 terms described as ‘Software as a Service’, short : SaaS. Typically, users don’t pay for owning the software (because they don’t 🙂 ), but for using it. But no worries : in the case of Zamzar, it’s totally free!

And if the whole SaaS story sounds vaguely familiar: yes, it is indeed exactly the same as the old Application Service Provider (or: ASP) model. The old sheep just got a new fur…

Posted in talking the talk, walking the walk, Web 2.0 | Leave a Comment »

the Bush Files: XML

Posted by the markITeer on May 23, 2007

The Bush FilesThis post is the first in a series of things ‘everybody-assumes-you-know-but-actually-you-don’t-have-a-clue’.
I call them : the Bush Files.
Today : XML

XML stands for eXtensible Markup Language.
Let’s start with the last part first : It’s a language, a way of communication, of sharing data, mostly between two applications. But it’s not just a language, it’s a ‘markup‘ language. This means that it combines text and extra information about this text. In the case of XML, it’s information about the structure of the text. Finally, it’s extensible, meaning that you can extend the language, invent new ‘words’, so you can have it say exactly what you want it to say.

let’s take a look at a simple example:

<books>
	<book ISBN="1400079179">
		<title>The Da Vinci Code</title>
		<author>Dan Brown</author>
	</book>
	<book ISBN="0345340426">
		<title>The Lord Of The Rings</title>
		<author>J.R.R. Tolkien</author>
	</book>
</books>

What does this tell us?
1. XML is readable: it’s just text and can be read in any text editor, like eg Notepad. Handy!
2. the extra information about our text is put in descriptive ‘tags’ between ‘<‘ and ‘>’
3. text is put in between opening and closing tags: eg <book> …… </book>. The opening tag, text and closing tag together are called an element
4. There is 1 element containing all data. In our example this is the <books> …. </books> element
5. inside an opening tag, you can also put some extra information in an attribute : eg <book ISBN=”1400079179″>

The fun thing is, you can invent any tags and attributes you want, as long as the one you’re sending the XML to ‘speaks’ the same language… That’s why, once a language has been defined between the sender(s) and the receiver(s) of the XML, it can be described in a schema. That way, everybody knows which words can be used so that every-one can understand what the others say.

If you speak the correct language, use the words you and the other people/programs that have to work with the XML have defined, the XML is said to be valid. If your XML is syntacticly correct (see items 3 & 4 above), it is said to be well-formed.

So, that’s basically all there is to XML. Not so difficult, he?

P.S. If you take a close look at HTML, the language used for building web pages, you’ll see … that it’s really XML with it’s own pre-defined tags and attributes! The original HTML wasn’t really well-formed though. That’s why they invented XHTML, which is the same as HTML, but this time fully well-formed.

Posted in talking the talk, the Bush Files | Leave a Comment »