Tuesday Mar 20, 2007

Exo's Web Desktop

If you really want to see how far one can push AJAX you have to try out EXO Platform's Web OS (which is really a Web Desktop as defined by wikipedia), an Open Source desktop in a browser with skinnable look and feel, powered on the server side by Java and client side by Javascript and html (more tech details on their site)

I keep being amazed at how much one can do with JavaScript. This has really gone beyond anything I would have imagined: you literally have a OSX style look and feel desktop that appears in your browser. You can open windows, minimize them, there is a Windows XP like menu bar to start applications... I have not yet quite worked out how this could help me in my day to day life, but then I have not yet played with it seriously. One thing is for certain, it has seriously pushed back the boundary of what I thought possible.

Well, I should not have been quite so surprised when Benjamin Mestrallet demoed this at Sun Tech Days today, as I had seen a similar framework demonstrated 8 months ago when I was in Berlin (pointers please!) by some very serious german engineer who had worked for Siemens, and claimed to have put together a framework that would work on absolutely any browser efficiently. But his look and feel was nowhere near as fine tuned as Exo's now is, and so it did less to catch my imagination. It has to be said that Exo recently added a very skilled graphic artist to their team Benjamin told me, and that before that they had similar problems explaining this to people. The look is certainly astounding.

You have to see it to believe it. Luckily it is really easy to install. Just follow these steps:

And you're there.

For the lazy there are more pictures of this on Benjamin's flickr site.

For this to become a Web Operating System all resources should be identified by URIs (better even URLs). This would make Univerals Drag and Drop possible and would allow for very powerful applications to be written using the SPARQL query language.

Monday Feb 26, 2007

High Tech Vienna

Museum of Modern Art, Vienna

Last week I traveled to Vienna for a few days meeting with Andreas Blumauer, Alois Reitbauer, and Max Wegmüller (Sun) to work on Semantic Web/tagging related ideas. These were a few very intense days and evenings with discussions going late into the night at the Heurigen.

We looked at Semantic Wikis - especially the java based ikewiki and the famous mediawiki (see comparison) for ideas on how one could link search, tagging and wikis. Ikewiki has some very nice features, including relation completion which is somewhat akin to method completion in modern java IDEs. If Ikewiki knows the type of the resource it is on, it will be able to use ajax calls to list a number of possible relations. Ikewiki is probably not stable enough for immediate deployment though as we had trouble after Andreas entered a contradictory statement into it [1]. I will have to play with this more to get a better understanding of where things are going in this area. Please send me any suggestions of other cool semantic wikis I should look at.

Another thing I am going to have to look into more detail now is the question of scalability of Semantic Web tools and the size of applications that have been deployed. People don't yet have a good feeling as to the size of projects being developed currently, and it worries them. There are large databases out there now that can do billions of triples such as Allegrograph, BigOWLIM, or Oracle's 10g database... Projects such as neuroweb as described by "Semantic Web Meets e-Neuroscience: An RDF Use Case" are using the Semantic Web in big ways. I don't like to talk about things I don't know about, so I should probably find the biggest projects, interview some of the people there and blog about it.

After three days of hard work I had a short visit around Vienna. The picture I had of Vienna was one of an old town full of beautiful old monuments, and so I was nicely surprised to find something completely different. On Friday evening I walked into a Cafe near the Semantic Web School, on Lerchenfelder Gürtel, and found an excellent funk band called Groove Coalition playing (pix of bar, pic of band). The next day I walked around Vienna and ended up in the museum district, where I visited the museum of modern art (pictured above). As I had to be at the airport at 5am I decided to stay overnight in the Cafe Leopold which stayed open until 4am.

On the whole it was a very enjoyable stay, and I wish I could have stayed longer. A full set of pictures is available on my flickr account under the tag vienna.

[1] Andreas made a page be both a foaf:Document and a foaf:Person which are defined as disjoint sets: foaf:Person owl:disjointWith foaf:Document. In fact this must be a little tricky thing to do correctly in a semantic wiki, as the URL for the page has to be a Document and not the thing one wishes to describe. To do this right each page should therefore have a #about anchor which would be the thing the page is about, such as Java or the Black Box. If a page needs an anchor, it may as well have a number of them too, so that one could describe a number of concepts on the same page, which may well sometimes be handy...




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