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Want Windows results? Try Bindows

Description of a useful XML tool.


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Want Windows results? Try Bindows
Ed Tittel

If you want to build Web applications that look and feel like Windows as much as possible, you've got two basic options:

  • Jump onto the .NET bandwagon, and work within the Microsoft APIs and development framework.
  • Pick a third-party alternative, and hope for the most Windows-like results.

Given those options, why might an XML developer prefer the latter rather than the former? Answers vary from individual to individual, but often boil down to matters of expense (the cost of Windows servers and development tools is not trivial), complexity (a serious investment of time and effort is required to master the tools and APIs in the .NET environment sufficiently to do top-notch, commercial-grade work), or politics (for some, jumping on the Microsoft bandwagon is no big deal; for others, it's viewed as a form of selling out or of "dancing with the Devil").

If you find yourself in the third-party faction, no matter why, you'll be pleased to learn that a nice toolset and API collection called Bindows is available. Among other things, Bindows offers a reasonably complete and comprehensive set of GUI widgets and controls that look enough like their Windows counterparts to work for most developers seeking to leverage that well-known and widely used interface. For a quick look-see jump over to www.i-see.net/bindows/ and check out the samples linked to the home page.

Under the hood, Bindows uses a potent combination of XML to describe interface components, objects, and capabilities along with a combination of JavaScript, DHTML and CSS to manage object interaction and presentation. It looks, acts, and feels like an object-oriented GUI environment that permits it to look and act like Windows, but runs on any platform that supports the Internet Explorer family of browsers (at present, that includes Windows PCs and Macintoshes).

The advantages of Bindows are naby: It's relatively compact; it imposes little processing overhead on clients or servers (its developers call it "zero footprint" code); and it provides broad, useful functionality without making developers climb a huge learning curve. The disadvantages include a short track record, some reports of problems and instabilities (which probably relates to its short product life), and licensing terms that are somewhat vague and mysterious (one must e-mail the developer for details, a circumstance not exactly calculated to promote serious interest among those looking for transparent terms and an easy, straightforward business relationship).

Does this mean I think Bindows is ready for heavy-duty, prime-time use? Probably not yet. Does this mean I think Bindows is nothing more than a curiousity? Definitely not. For one thing, it demonstrates the continuing power of well-conceived alternatives to Microsoft technologies. For another thing—more important to my admittedly XML-centric view of the world—it makes a compelling demonstration of how XML can drive potent, complex development tools, and support equally capable applications.


About the Author

Ed Tittel is a 20-plus year veteran of the computing industry, who's worked as a programmer, manager, systems engineer, instructor, writer, trainer, and consultant. He's also the series editor of Que Certification's Exam Cram 2 and Training Guide series, and writes and teaches regularly on Web markup languages and related topics.


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