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    1: <html>
    2: <head>
    3: <title>XPFE vs. DHTML</title>
    4: </head>
    5: <body bgcolor="#FFFFFF">
    7: <h2>XPFE vs. DHTML</h2>
    9: <p>'In the beginning, there were 3 front ends: Mac, Windows and Unix.  Each took a suite of developers to maintain.
   10: Adding a new feature (even just a button) required 3 engineers to waste at least a day (more often a week) slaving 
   11: away until the feature was complete.  This had to change.'  This is an 
   12: <a href="">explanation posted</a> on describing 
   13: how the Netscape 4.x browsers required a different set of engineers to create and maintain the interface code for
   14: Netscape on each different platform, even though each version looked nearly identical.
   16: <p>For an organization committed to creating an application that runs on a range of 
   17: <a href="">different platforms</a> this 
   18: system of using platform specific code was a huge investment and a big waste of time.  XPFE, Mozilla's 
   19: cross-platform front end, was designed to fix this by allowing engineers to be able to create one interface that would then
   20:  work on any operating system.  This new technology started out as a time-saving technique and then turned into one
   21:  of Mozilla's most powerful innovations.
   23: <p>Mozilla engineers were trying to create a more efficient process that would save them time and effort when
   24: they started work on XPFE, but this technology ended up having the unintended consequence of lowering the barriers
   25: to entry for application developers.  Mike Cornall, in 
   26: <a href="">an article</a> about Mozilla 
   27: published on LinuxToday, summarizes the history of XPFE well when he says: 'The application platform capabilities
   28: of Mozilla came about through a happy coincidence of Open Source development, good design, and far-sighted
   29: developers who were paying attention.'
   31: <p>All browsers allow people using any type of computer to access applications on the 
   32: Web, such as Yahoo! Mail, Amazon and Ebay. Mozilla is simply building on this idea.  
   33: Using new technologies in conjunction with existing Web standards Mozilla enables the creation of 
   34: more powerful applications, so instead of using Opera, Netscape 4.x or Internet Explorer 
   35: to access a Web page you can use a full-featured application with Mozilla.
   37: <p><b>Understanding XPFE</b>
   39: <p>The technologies that XPFE uses are all existing Web standards, such as Cascading Style Sheets, JavaScript and
   40:  XML (the XML component is a new language called XUL, the XML-based User Interface Language).  Since well understood
   41:  Web standards are being used to create applications instead of platform-specific C code, a whole new group of people
   42:  now have the ability to create their own applications using Mozilla.
   44: <p>In the sense that XPFE uses some of the same standards that are used to create Web pages, Mozilla-based
   45:  applications can even be thought of as Web pages.  Gecko, the HTML rendering engine that Mozilla uses, also draws
   46:  all XPFE content, so a Web page and an application created with XPFE are on one level treated the same way by 
   47: Mozilla itself.
   49: <p>Web developers and designers who use Mozilla are naturally attracted to the fact that they can create
   50:  applications using the same skills and techniques that they used to create Web pages in the past.  The specifics
   51:  involved with creating Mozilla applications are different but should seem very familiar to anyone who has created
   52:  for the Web before.
   54: <p>When talking about front ends it is important to clarify what this means.  In this context a front end is more
   55:  than the look and feel of a Mozilla-based application, but includes the functionality and structure of that application
   56:  as well.  More simply put, XPFE allows users to do more than just create a skin for an application.  For example,
   57:  Netscape 6 does use this functionality to allow for the creation of 
   58: <a href="">different themes</a> for their browser suite, but the browser suite itself
   59:  is also created out of these same technologies.
   61: <p><img src=""><br>
   62: <i>Figure 1: XPFE Framework</i>
   64: <p>To understand all of the capabilities of XPFE, we can look at how the different components of it fit together.  
   65: JavaScript is used to create the functionality for a Mozilla-based application, Cascading Style Sheets are used for 
   66: formatting the look and feel, and XUL is used for creating the application's structure.  Viewed together these three 
   67: standards can be seen forming the triangle in Figure 1 above.
   69: <p><b>Comparing XPFE and DHTML</b>
   71: <p>In many ways XPFE is very similar to <a href="">DHTML</a>.  Dynamic HTML is 
   72: a combination of HTML with JavaScript and CSS that allows a developer to create a Web application that is contained
   73:  within the content area of a browser.  XPFE provides a logical evolution to this idea by allowing the creation of
   74:  applications that are more powerful, more flexible and that can live outside of the browser window as stand-alone
   75:  programs.
   77: <p>Figure 2 below illustrates the similarities between XPFE and DHTML.  Both use JavaScript to create functionality, both
   78:  use CSS to format the design and layout, and both use a fairly simple mark-up language to describe content.  The 
   79: difference between the two is that one of these mark-up languages is HTML and the other is XUL.
   81: <p><img src=""><br>
   82: <i>Figure 2: Comparison of DHTML and XPFE</i>
   84: <p>Although HTML has been put to many different uses, it was <a href="">originally designed</a>
   85:  as a simple system to link together separate text documents on the Internet.  Later additions to the HTML standard 
   86: have extended its functionality, but even these enhancements can't make it an appropriate language to use for developing 
   87: applications.  XUL is a language specifically designed for creating user interfaces, so it makes sense that XPFE is more 
   88: suited for application development than DHTML.
   90: <p>Fortunately since XUL as a language is structurally similar to HTML it is simple enough to learn if you are already
   91:  familiar with the basic language of the Web.  Even if you have never used HTML before, XUL uses a straight-forward 
   92: <a href="">collection of tags</a> that makes it easy to get comfortable with it in 
   93: a short time.  Once you become accustomed to using XUL you will be ready to start using XPFE to create your own applications.
   95: <p><b>Oversimplifying in the Metaphor</b>
   97: <p>This overview of XPFE as a simple evolution of DHTML is an oversimplification of the story and deliberately leaves 
   98: out much important information.  These details were ignored at first to give a conceptual framework for understanding 
   99: the new ideas that XPFE represent.  Now that we've gotten past the basics, we can go back and talk about the rest of the 
  100: functionality available with using Mozilla to create applications.
  102: <p>At the <a href="">Second Mozilla Developer Meeting</a>, Rob Ginda, 
  103: the creator of ChatZilla, lead a discussion group about Mozilla as Platform.  In this session he listed all of the following 
  104: as components of a Mozilla-based application:</P>
  106: <FONT COLOR="#800000">
  107: <UL>
  108: <LI>XUL (XML-based User Interface Language) - Used to create the structure and content of an application.<br><br>
  109: <LI>CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) - Used to create the look and feel of an application.<br><br>
  110: <LI>JavaScript - Used to create the functionality of an application.<br><br>
  111: <LI>XPInstall (Cross-Platform Install) - Used to package applications so that they can be installed on any platform.<br><br>
  112: <LI>RDF (Resource Description Framework) - Used to store data and transmit information.  Generally regarded to be one of the most complicated aspects of XPFE.<br><br>
  113: <LI>DTD (Document Type Definition) - Used for localization and internationalization, more commonly referred to in short-hand as L12N and I18N respectively.<br><br>
  114: <LI>XBL (eXtensible Binding Language) - Used to create reusable widgets using a combination of XUL and JavaScript.<br><br>
  115: <LI>XUL templates - Used to create a framework for importing data into an application with a combination of RDF and XUL.<br><br>
  116: <LI>XPCOM/XPConnect - Used to allow JavaScript, or potentially any other scripting language, to access and utilize C and C++ libraries.
  117: </UL>
  118: </FONT>
  120: <p>Each of these technologies is important and several of these deserve to have whole books devoted to them.  Although
  121:  each of these technologies is important there is a distinction to be made among them.  Some of these are essential to 
  122: the creation of a Mozilla application and some of them provide powerful extra features that can be used in addition to 
  123: the basic functionality.
  125: <p>For example, <a href="">RDF</a> is an extremely powerful technology for
  126:  using data in Mozilla but it is possible to create an application without using it.  
  127: <a href="">Localization</a> also provides Mozilla with a great amount 
  128: of flexibility and usability but there are many existing applications that don't take advantage of this feature.  
  129: It wouldn't be possible to create an application without XUL though.
  131: <p><b>Judge For Yourself</b>
  133: <p>XPFE is a new technology that has yet to prove itself to the Web community and many people are skeptical 
  134: about the need for an application framework such as this.  Before you make up your mind about XPFE, you should 
  135: take a look at the many different applications that have already been created using Mozilla so you can judge for 
  136: yourself.  
  138: <p>If you are interested in trying out some of these, there are currently over 30 different Mozilla-based 
  139: applications being hosted on <a href=""></a> that have been created using XPFE.  
  140: Other applications using the same technology include ActiveState's 
  141: <a href="">Komodo</a> IDE,  Rob Ginda's 
  142: <a href="">ChatZilla</a> IRC client, and Zope's 
  143: <a href="">Mozilla Initiative</a>.
  145: </body>
  146: </html>

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