News and commentary from the cross-platform scripting community.
cactus Mail Starting 4/15/98

From: dhshute@snet.net (David Shute);
Sent at Wed, 15 Apr 1998 15:43:37 -0400;
Personal Web Server

I agree with your comments on the importance of a personal Web server. The ability to access data, whether local to your machine or on another machine, through one protocol makes sense. The intent is seemless programatic access to the information no matter where that information is stored.

To me, the personal web server notion is analogous to a user's desire not to need to a) specify an URL to get to information on the Internet and needing a file name on my PC and b) one application to navigate the Internet while having a second application to navigate my PC.

BTW, I enjoy your writings - both computer and non-computer related. The ones on the death penalty were particularly powerful.

I'm glad you like the stuff about the death penalty. Early May is coming up, it's one of those periods when I usually do a series of self-indulgent pieces. DW

From: angus@netscape.com (Angus Davis);
Sent at Wed, 15 Apr 1998 12:51:29 -0700;
Re:Flash and PGML

There's huge confusion over the differences between PGML and Flash. In fact, I think there is a legitimate need for *both* formats in order to give the web content developer all the tools they need.

If the developer wants to include a simple "circle tag" or "rectangle tag" in XML, or if through the Document Object Model, they'd like to specify some sort of call like "new Circle(90)" for a 90-pixel radius circle, then they would want to use PGML. That's because PGML will be tightly integrated with the Document Object Model, and since it uses a simple XML-based markup, anyone can learn how to program the "circle tag" or the "line tag."

However, PGML doesn't do streaming. It's also an ASCII text-based format, which means for complicated graphics, it's not small. Finally, PGML doesn't synchronize other media types ... you can't play a sound when a new circle appears, for instance. Flash does all of these things.

As it turns out, the Flash file format is very centered around the concept of "Frames" (as in Frames in a movie). They worry about how the animation will play out, and about making sure the correct sound is played at precisely the correct moment. Imagine how disappointed you would be if a big animation of Cartman (from South Park) yelling "Beefcake" wasn't perfectly aligned with his annoying, high-decibel voice! Finally, Flash has already been tightly integrated with the leading streaming product on the Web, the RealPlayer.

But Flash is not as tightly integreated with the Document Object Model. And creating Flash movies requires an authoring tool (you cannot create it in the same way we create HTML, XML and JavaScript: text editors). And the compressed Flash file format doesn't hold on to as much information about the graphics primitives (although the primary flash uncompressed "authoring-only" format, which is not what we're discussing, does.)

So, I think there's room for both of these formats to grow and prosper. Since the Flash format doesn't lend itself to vector primitives as much as it does to frames, then we can use PGML for simple calls like "Create a new line" or "Create a new circle." For example, we might use PGML to show graphs of stock performance. In the cases where we need to stream an animated multimedia movie of "Cartman" to the user, Flash is the way to go.

Over time, the worlds of Flash, PGML, and other things like the RealPlayer will converge. The content developer is our customer. Let us know what you want.

From: chrisd@i-us.com (Chris Dickman);
Sent at Wed, 15 Apr 1998 10:43:43 -0700;
Graphics and DaveNet

I just wanted to say how great it is to see discussion of graphics-related topics in DaveNet of late.

On i/us we just launched the online sale of CorelXARA 2, as a download-only product, something of a cult graphics app. We're in close communication with Xara Ltd., the British creators of Xara (Corel just licenses it) and I intend to champion the support for PGML, and possibly Flash, for inclusion in the next version. So my thanks for your timely and cogent coverage of this.

If you're curious about CorelXARA (usually just called Xara, similar to your usage of Corel to cover CorelDRAW), the XaraXone on i/us has lots of info.


From: bva@allegrosoft.com (Bob Van Andel);
Sent at Wed, 15 Apr 1998 10:39:24 -0700;
Re:A Note to My Readers

We've been following the XML stuff for awhile, and certainly like the XML-RPC approach you've been pitching.

We make a small footprint web server toolkit designed primarily for embedding in devices. We also make small footprint mail clients for use in embedded devices. We think the opportunities for device collaboration with humans using Web protocols are boundless.

Anyway, if you're looking at embedding Web server technology in other applications, you might want to look at our stuff.


From: eric@hahnfamily.com (Eric Hahn);
Sent at Wed, 15 Apr 1998 10:32:48 -0700;
Re:A Note to My Readers

I've been thinking about the "web server on the client" idea for a while, too. I'm totally enamored with this approach for a few reasons:

1) You can actually use XML/HTML to be the entire "UI" in a x-platform way. It's pretty easy to write portable server-side code in this model. The local RPC round-trip time is very reasonable, so you don't pay a big penalty in responsiveness, especially on client OSes with preemptive multitasking (Unix, NT). And if you really need to implement some difficult UI construct or need to keep up with individual keystrokes, you can resort to Java or JavaScript, etc.

2) The user experience is centralized in the browser (you get a uniform locator space w/ URLs, you get a common metaphor for navigation and bookmarking, etc.). This has deep implications beyond UI - like the certificate infrastructure for implementing single sign-on, and the ability to use newer browser stuff like RDF across applications, not just the web.

3) It works off-line since presumably the server's store can be managed on a local drive (ask all of the "server-based xxx" companies what they do for us poor laptop users on the airplane...)

4) You *can* run the server in the cloud, if you want - but you don't have to. You can also leave your desktop turned on when you travel and log into the app remotely if you prefer (sort of pcAnywhere on steroids). This might imply some replication/sync between servers, but that is EXACTLY the place to do it (not at the UI-laden client where it is commonly done today).

Anyway, I think this is a very important software architecture.

-Eric Hahn (from home)

ps: it needs a name ("client-client", "cerver", ad nauseum)

From: rotani@psygnosis.com (Robert Otani);
Sent at Wed, 15 Apr 1998 10:28:17 -0700;
Re:Flash and PGML

I like Flash because the tools are easy to use. It's not just about vector graphics. It also does a fair job with streaming audio, which clearly sits in the binary camp. Any integration with other vector formats are fine, but for us the end result is the same regardless of the standard du jour. The most important thing is and always has been the quality of the tools (well, in this case the user base too). Flash still wins with both.

IF Netscape wants to support PGML, and if they want to get guys like us to work in it, Adobe, Corel and Macromedia better integrate it with the tools. That necessitates a Flash to PGML utility in Flash, Freehand, Illustrator, Corel, etc. etc. Freehand already talks to Flash, and it already speaks Postscript, so Macromedia is still looking good in my software budget, but it doesn't mean Adobe is too far behind.


From: jonathan@webware-inc.com (Jonathan Peterson);
Sent at Wed, 15 Apr 1998 07:10:20 -0700;
Re:Flash and PGML

The biggest advantage Flash has is speed and installed tool/plugin base, as you've mentioned. The binary Flash format will always load faster than PGML, BUT the PGML text language will (should) be manipulatable by Javascript. Flash then, has predefined interactivity embeded in the graphic. But PGML stuff can be generated on the fly by Javascript/CGI.

Why not use PGML to do real-time stock graphs? Why not use PGML to do real-time maps and animation of the tour de France bike race? These things can't be done in Flash.

There may be room for two standards (Flash used by advertisers and others needing fixed performance in the smallest footprint) and PGML used by tool-types to do cool things outside the realm of PGML's original designers' intent) but the extensible solution will almost always win.

Also in PGML's favor is the huge amount of existing code. Take 2 parts Postscript add 1 part Logo, a dash of Java for buzzword compliance, and mix well. If the PGML folks can get past the whitepaper/definition phase quickly and get into implementation (like XML) they should win.

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