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  1. #1
    gingham dress, army boots... silver trophy redux's Avatar
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    Introducing XUL - The ĎNetís Biggest Secret: Part 1

    This forum thread discusses the SitePoint article 'Introducing XUL - The ĎNetís Biggest Secret: Part 1' by Harry Fuecks.

    "In one of the Internet's quieter corners, a revolution has been taking place! Join Harry as he explains XUL - what it is, and how to use it, in this, the first of his three part series."

  2. #2
    gingham dress, army boots... silver trophy redux's Avatar
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    i've been playing with a little bit of XUL a few months back after reading around the subject at http://devedge.netscape.com/ , but had major trouble understanding how to turn my little interface into a proper Phoenix toolbar...and gave up (mainly due to my complete lack of knowledge of RDF, and how to get the xpi to install itself properly).
    nice article, good clean introduction to the power of XUL.
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    SitePoint Wizard gold trophysilver trophy
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    Many thanks. For anyone interested I've put up the example from this part here: http://xul.phppatterns.com/?ex=example1.xul

    The best example I've seen so far of an XUL application which is launched from a website is the Mozilla Amazon Browser: http://www.infodraft.com/~faser/mab/content/mab.xul - this basically provides a front end to Amazon using Amazon's XML services. Another nice one is: http://clav.port5.com/cardsonline/cards.xul

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    SitePoint Wizard silver trophy redemption's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HarryF
    The best example I've seen so far of an XUL application which is launched from a website is the Mozilla Amazon Browser: http://www.infodraft.com/~faser/mab/content/mab.xul - this basically provides a front end to Amazon using Amazon's XML services. Another nice one is: http://clav.port5.com/cardsonline/cards.xul
    The Amazon browser seems to be a "standard" app. Check out this one running as a Thinlet applet -> http://www.mycgiserver.com/~thinlet/demoamazon.html Btw, Thinlet doesn't use XUL, but it uses it's own hand-rolled XML format. The main plus point is it's lightweight and portability to mobile devices.

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    SitePoint Wizard gold trophysilver trophy
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    Thinlet is interesting - wish they'd stuck to the original XUL format - came across this Thinlet editor: http://www.carlsbadcubes.com/theodore/ - really nice - shame it's not Mozilla XUL.

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    SitePoint Wizard silver trophy redemption's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HarryF
    Thinlet is interesting - wish they'd stuck to the original XUL format - came across this Thinlet editor: http://www.carlsbadcubes.com/theodore/ - really nice - shame it's not Mozilla XUL.
    It did turn up, and I am doubtful of how it could be both a XUL and a Thinlet editor at the same time.

    At the moment though it is still missing a truly well-architected approach in terms of event-handling (unlike Mozilla XUL, Thinlet is meant as a Java graphical toolkit, so that is done in Java). I also feel that it is a really pity it doesn't use the XUL format.

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    SitePoint Wizard westmich's Avatar
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    How is this different then what's been available through IE for the last year or two.
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    gingham dress, army boots... silver trophy redux's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by westmich
    How is this different then what's been available through IE for the last year or two.
    well, for one thing, you can write entirely different applications using XUL. the mozilla browser itself is one big XUL application...
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  9. #9
    SitePoint Wizard gold trophysilver trophy
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    You mean DHTML/ActiveX/COM?

    DHTML is essentially an "add on" to a standard web page; it's not a vocab specifically geared to building GUIs. This can be best seen by looking at some of the examples on XULPlanet. Have a look at the menu or trees examples. If you look at the syntax of the XUL documents, it's clear exactly what they're doing; the same in DHTML would be a massive collection of divs, spans etc. which is hard to build in the first place and much easier to break.

    More to the point, would you write a desktop application in DHTML? When you look at some of the XUL elements like broadcaster and command it's clear this a technology geared to build the type of apps you'd normally only consider with Java/Swing or MFCs.

    ActiveX fills in for DHTML but it's a technology closer to Java applets (you embed an activex control into a page as an object) with the advantage over Applets of being able to fire "events". The ActiveX control may have to be installed on the client computer and in terms of customizing the appearance of the control it's a matter of using VB/JScript rather than CSS and XML attributes. And ActiveX is generally a single platform plus you can't "View > Source" as you can with XUL.

    From an architectural point of view, I think (may not be entirely correct here) the important difference between what ActiveX and Gecko (the "XUL Engine") is ActiveX is essentially a collection of "add ons" to the operating system while Gecko is a complete runtime like the Java runtime, which can be installed on top of any operating system and by day earns it's money rendering web browsers like Mozilla, Phoenix and Netscape but is capable of rendering essnentially any GUI you like (as in the examples above). This is important from the point of view of having a uniform environment for developing and executing applications in. Gecko is closer to .NET than ActiveX IMO.

    The COM library is what Mozilla have "reponded to" with XPCom (cross platform COM). Using JavaScript you have access to a library which provides all sorts of functionality such as file system utilities, database access, XML parsers (check out the Dom Inspector), SOAP and XML-RPC (they've just added WSDL support) and loads more. The XPCom library can be extended either in C++ or using languages like Python, Ruby and Perl which makes it incredibly easy see here

    Long winded answer. Guess the easiest way to see it is to try some of the examples on XULPlanet then compare that with doing the same in Internet Explorer.

  10. #10
    Wanna-be Apple nut silver trophy M. Johansson's Avatar
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    This seems very interesting! I don't have Mozilla on this computer, but I will check it out tomorrow.

    And it's a free open standard, isn't it? If so, that makes it one hojillion times more interesting than IE propietary controls, in that these apps could easily be implemented on PDA:s and stuff.
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    Quote Originally Posted by M. Johansson
    This seems very interesting! I don't have Mozilla on this computer, but I will check it out tomorrow.

    And it's a free open standard, isn't it? If so, that makes it one hojillion times more interesting than IE propietary controls, in that these apps could easily be implemented on PDA:s and stuff.
    David Hyatt (co-wrote XUL, now at Apple) hinted at considering adding some XUL-related technologies to Safari in his blog recently.
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  12. #12
    Wanna-be Apple nut silver trophy M. Johansson's Avatar
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    MS has something like it with IE Webcontrols. Check out the tab control demo and view source. Unfortunately, it's not as interesting, as it's tied to both IE and .NET on the client side.
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    SitePoint Member pwhiteh's Avatar
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    Actually those web controls are ASP.NET web controls. They render almost as well in Moz as they do in IE (mostly font sizing problems) There's nothing novel in them, just that the .NET framework lets you easily use them on your pages.

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    SitePoint Wizard gold trophysilver trophy
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    The nearest thing I've seen to this from Microsoft so far is this article: http://msdn.microsoft.com/msdnmag/is...1/NETGUIBliss/. As the article points out, it is fairly easy to write an XML parser which "maps" a language like XUL to a GUI class library. That's basically what Luxor does, mapping XUL to Java / Swing. Even I've played with the concept a little here 8)

    Implementing something as complete as XUL in Gecko would quite a significant development effort though but as Devx pointed out a while back, would seem XML is (probably) the Heir to UI building. Hopefully we'll see Microsoft and Sun follow suit at some point.


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