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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

My personal history of Web Authorizing Tools (2)

Tinlizzie Wiki

Tinlizzie Wiki is a wiki written in Tweak. It uses OpenDocument Format (ODF) as data format, and WebDAV as server.

Although data format in StackWiki was Squeak specific binary, In Tinlizzie Wiki existing common format is used. A part of reason why I choose ODF was that it was a research project to find a possibility to exchange eToys content among different platform. So it was necessary to find platform independent and transparent format. ODF, especially its presentation format, was quite close to my demonds which are a) text based b) enable to embed graphics c) enable to use original element d) internal and external link supported.

A ODF file is just a zip archive which includes XML text and multimedia binary files. And it is easy to extract image file in a project by an another tool. Both embeded object and external resource can be represented by common URL notation. And if necessary, new tag for Tweak specific object can be used. For example, a project which includes fully dynamic behavior written as Tweak objects can be viewed on ordinary OpenOffice Org application, although dynamic feature would in it be disabled.

To export Tweak object to ODF as natural as possible, special care was needed to save. It is not the best way to define a new tag for Tweak specific object even though it is possible. It was preferable to map from Tweak to ODF properly. For example, if a Book object in Tweak is stored as a presentation within frame in ODF, the project looks somewhat more normal even on other application.

There is a issue how much detail information is needed to save an object. For example, if a text is saved during its editing, whether if position of the cursor should be saved or not?? There are two strategy in terms of implementation. One is to save everything except specified status (deep copy), another one is to save only specified status. Tinliziie Wiki adopted the latter one although Squeak and Tweak native serialize mechanism were the former.

Saving only specific status has two disadvantages. a) A user might expect to save everything including minor information because combining arbitrary objects in even any peculiar way is possible in Tweak. b) Each new widget needs to implement each exporter. But "saving everything by default" strategy has a problem of compatibility because even just one change of variable name makes trouble for old version. Especially it is problematic for sharing in Internet. So I din't choose this strategy.

WebDAV is used as the server. Both StackWiki and Tinlizzie doesn't need server side logic, but simple storage is required. WebDAV is the best option for that matter. Even version control system can be plugged in the server with Subversion modlule in Apache for free,

Javascript Workspace

Javascript Workspace is a simple web application. It uses bare Javascript on client, and Ruby CGI on server. It behave like a Smalltalk Workspace, and the contents are managed same manner as Wiki.

Let me make sure about workspace again. Workspace is a text editor, and it has two additional commands "do it" and "print it". Do it command envokes a source code selected by user, and print it command output the result into cursor position. The function is similar to REPL shell on dynamic language, but the use case is slightly different. A typical way to use workspace is as an explanation of program. An author writes example source code inside the documentation, so that a user can try actual function while reading a text. Namely, REPL is two ways dialog between a machine and a human, but workspace is tree ways conversation among a machine, an author, and a user.

Workspace is indispensable tool for Smalltak though, which doesn't mean only for Smalltalk. It would be nice if there is a workspace for Javascript language. This was the initial motivation of Javascript Workspace. And then, it was a natural consequence that Wiki was used to save the content because Javascript lives on web browser intrinsically, and there are no way to save to local disk.

During the development, however, I realize that it can be more than just a workspace in terms of media. Javascript workspace has only simple user interface, which includes a couple of buttons and one big text area. Even there are no hyper link nor emphasized text. But variety things can be happend from such minimal configuration by source code. Hyper link is enable to make from location property, rich text can be shown to modify DOM tree, and even game can be made to set up event hander. Source code can do everthing.

Just one textbox on a web page is a very radical idea. This is completely opposite direction to current trend of rich internet application. Web application consists with number of hidden functions these days, but Javascript Workspace can not have any invisible information. Everything what it does is shown to you as source code entirely on the screen. Javascritp Workspace looks like dangerous as it runs any Javascript code, but in fact, it is a quite safe system.

The idea of uset interface of Javascript Workspace is adopted to OMeta/JS.

TileScript

TileScript uses Scriptaculous as GUI library and WebDAV for server storage. JSON is used for its data format.

A TileScript document consists with one or more paragraphs, and a paragraph is either Javascript code, "tile script", or HTML expression. A tile script is set of tiles, which each tile represents some syntactical element in a programming language. A user can connect tiles to construct a program with drag and drop. This is an easy way to make a program avoiding syntax error. Javascript is used to represent more complicated program than tile script. And HTML is used as annotation. It can be seen as rich version of Javascript Workspace.

The initial motivation of TileScript was to remake eToys on the web environment. The research had got started by making tile available on web browser. I considered to use Lively Kernel (SVG), but it was unnecessary if Table element in HTML DOM is used as tile. Scriptaculous is used to keep the source code simple.

After tile is ported, then next step was eToys environment itself which includes event handling, scheduling, and bitmap animation, etc. But those issues seemed too difficult for nature of web document.

Flow layout, which actual position of document elements are dynamically changed by reader's browser environment, is a significant feature of web. An author don't specify concrete position of elements, but rather care about logical structure. And then, a part of document which can not be shown on the screen is accessable by a vertical scrool bar.

On the other hand, eToys provides page layout, which size and position of elements is fixed, and presume particular screen size. Althogh, it is quite fit as a metaphor of physical paper, and best for a graphical environment like eToys, but clumsy operation like zooming and horizontal scrool is required.

Because ultimate goal of TileScript was not just reinventing eToys, but investigating further possibility, flow layout is adopted to TileScript. But still absolute coordination can be supported in form of embeded object even in flow layout. TileScript provides variable watcher like eToys, but those widget is also layouted along with flow.

And then

Now I'm working on next version of Javascript Workspace, which especially its target application is Active Essays. Our group have found that Javascript is quite reasonable tool to show some ideas of computer science. One reason is language's simplicity, and other one is easiness of collaboration. We have a lot of new ideas about programming language, and some of the part should be simple enough to understand even by junior high student. I believe my tool can be used to explain such ideas.

The problem is any project intoroduced here is not intended for real use, rather just for demo or prototype of further real development. So it is not be so useful as it looks because it includes too experimental aspect, too fragile, or too slow. Now I'm thinking that it is not bad idea if I make somewhat stable version of them. Even it might not have exotic feature like tile script, but only basic and simple functions are enough to play with everyone. I really like my first idea of Javascript Workspace, which has only simple text. I admit it is extreme, so next version might support emphasized text and inline image (basic HTML elements) at least.

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