From monolithic single platform apps, to “write once, run everywhere”, (back) to … ?

‘A “line-of-business application” is one set of critical computer applications perceived as vital to running an enterprise’, as Wikipedia defines it. It might not always include cutting-edge technical innovation, but it involves a lot of functional knowledge on business processes thus becoming critical for the well-being of an enterprise and, as a result, has a very long life span.

The first application of this type I have worked on was running on Sun machines (OMG, how old I am! :). The architecture was simple, monolithical, the application ran on only one OS and connected directly to the DB. I think it is still in operation today somewhere. Trying to port it to NT at some point was more or less a disaster.

The second one I worked on had a html interface based heavily on tables and rarely js, developed using java and hibernate (very new at that point). The multi-tier architecture involved a server and a html client which ran in a browser, deployment and upgrade of the client was instant, the possibilities of connectivity were greatly improved. However, the interface was basic, standardized. It is still in operation today and due to the simple html used, we stepped in browser-hell only for a couple of times.

The third one was designed around 2005, with a Flex interface and java server-side. At this point it the code was ‘truly’ write once, run everywhere. The architecture was similar to the one in the previous case, but the interface had no limits, with a great look and everything a “native” interface could bring. It ran flawlessly on all flash supporting browsers. It took a few years to develop, it takes up to a year to implement at a client site and it will be buried much sooner than expected, by the death of the “so much hated flash” (even if some clients still run IE6).

Now I am looking for the set of technologies for the next application of this type. I will be working on with these technologies hopefully for some good years, and have hit a wall on the interface side. Instead of writing code for a “virtual machine” running on a variety of hosts (browsers) I am facing the possibility of writing a variety of code running on a variety of hosts. How is this anything else but a technological regression? I know the arguments against the “write once, run everywhere” paradigm once used by Sun for its java, but this is a damn gui, nothing else.
Yes, there are subtle bugs and security issues, but how can you compare this with the security issues involved in having n versions of the same application? With something like GWT or Vaadin, you add the huge complexity of handling all the browsers in your application. Consider the security issues involved in patching many such applications instead of a single ‘vm’. On maybe I should not even write a web based application and revert to a situation similar to the one from the first case I described, with completely different branches, for different platforms written in different languages? How can this development effort be justified? Or, in order to ensure longevity and easy development, the logical choice is to choose a single platform and develop natively for it alone?

2 Responses

  1. I would at least take a look at Xojo. That’s what we do is make it easy to build cross-platform apps for the desktop, the web, iOS and now Raspberry Pi. The cool thing about our web framework is that you build the app like you build any other app. You don’t need to know anything about HTML, JavaScript, etc. That’s all handled on the fly at runtime. You might be looking for something that gives you more control than we do, but I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts regardless.

  2. Hi Geoff, thank you for your suggestion. It’s a very difficult choice to choose from the multitude of js frameworks. First you need to have at least a demo of UI widgets to make sure you have all the widgets you need then how you estimate if a framework will be there next year, not to mention in 10 years which is a low end of the life span of such an application.

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