I had a (very) brief look into some Ajax/DHTML JavaScript frameworks flying around. There are so many and to really compare them in detail would require time that I don’t have right now. So I can only come up with some first impressions:

  • Backbase appears to be a commercial but extremely clean and well designed framework with impressive examples (look in “Demos”) and documentation. But it is not compatible to Safari and Opera yet (which is bad for a 3.1 release I’d say, but they claim to be working on it). If a framework doesn’t take the burden of browser dependency away from the developer (or the user if the developer doesn’t care) then the nicest framework is worth almost nothing. It might be something to play with. Backbase works by applying styles and behavior to either simple HTML elements or custom Tags within an own XML namespace (a look at their Backbase explorer inside “Demos” shows what that means). There is a free community edition, but commercial licenses seem to be somewhat pricy.
  • Dojo does not look as clean as Backbase and their “examples” area is kind of lame compared to Backbase. But it is open source and so it is the choice above Backbase if you developing in a non-commercial context. The JavaScript methods of Dojo are a little more exposed – you need to write some more code to get the desired behaviors. It does not use own Tags in the source code, so Dojo might be useful to “enhance” a ordninary web page. Some people may prefer this approach over using own tags in the source code like Backbase does. I didn’t look at all their examples, but it seems while most of them are compatible with Safari some are not (e.g. the “nested drop target” example).
  • Script.aculo.us has also some good demos – not as complete as Backbase, but much better than Dojo (see for instance the effects demos). It is distributed with some kind of MIT license (free to be used for anything but the copyright information must be kept). Script.aculo.us has also some connection to Ruby: Ruby on Rails uses the framework and they run their site with a Ruby-based Wiki called Instiki. This framework has also some prominent examples to show: 37signals.com obviously created their much-talked-about-lately applications with it. From the examples I have seen up until now Script.aculo.us seems to be fully compatible with Safari which would be a big plus compared to the other frameworks.
  • MochiKit seems to be very compatible as well. It is also distributed either the MIT license or the Academic Free Licence. This framework is more related to the Python community since TurboGears uses it to provide something like Script.aculo.us does for Ruby on Rails. The demos are better than the ones by Dojo but not as slick as the ones of Script.aculo.us or Backbase.

I imagine a future where a developer of a web application could say something like “take this dataset and provide it as shoppable items in a sortable table to the user with a live recording of all selections to the shopping cart” in few lines of code. The visual look of the resulting web page should be 100% CSS based. Developers happy. Designers happy. But I suppose it’ll take another 1-3 years to achieve that level of integration.

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