First Look

Meteor: An amazing free, open source Web app platform you have to try

This could be the Web apps platform you've been looking for

leonid meteor
Credit: Wikipedia

There are a couple of big problems with most Web applications: First, most of them them are “bursty”; you do something in one browser and there’s a delay before another browser sees the update. This usually leads to major user frustration and, in some cases, to users trying to interact with the app while it’s busy resulting in them reloading or killing off the app in the middle of a transaction which often doesn’t have a happy result.

Now, you might argue that this is a user experience design problem but while UX designers are often to blame it really isn’t always their faulty because the underlying app architecture usually doesn’t allow a better UX design.

The second big problem is that Web apps of any “depth” (i.e. apps that are trying to get serious work done) are really, really hard to engineer. For example, if you try to build slick, rich apps on PHP you’re in for a world of complex, mind-numbing spaghetti code that is a complete pain to test and a nightmare to debug.

As you might guess, I’ve found a “new” thing that addresses these Web app development issues and may just be the coolest development platform I’ve seen for a long time: It’s called Meteor (even the name is ridiculously cool! And they’ve even got the domain!).

meteor logo

So, you’re probably wondering what makes Meteor so damn exciting … first of all, you code in JavaScript on both the client- and the server-side. Second, Meteor is real-time even for implementing code updates for running apps. Third, it’s based on Node.js:

… a platform built on Chrome's JavaScript runtime for easily building fast, scalable network applications. Node.js uses an event-driven, non-blocking I/O model that makes it lightweight and efficient, perfect for data-intensive real-time applications that run across distributed devices.

Meteor is truly amazing. It’s open source, secure, fast, and remarkably flexible. And free. Did I mention free?

There’s a native installer that supports Windows 7, Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2008, and Windows Server 2012 as well as a command line installer for Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion) and above, and Linux on x86 and x86_64 architectures.

The excellent and extensive documentation includes really good tutorials and you’ll be impressed with the sophistication of the apps the tutorials walk you through. If you want a more book-style approach, I heartily recommend Discover Meteor by Tom Coleman and Sacha Greif; I just purchased a copy which rather underlines how much I’m impressed with the book and, most of all, with Meteor … Meteor is a programming system I feel I need to really understand.

Meteor is backed by some serious venture capital ($11.2 Million in two rounds from six investors including Andreessen Horowitz and Matrix Partners) so there’s the assurance that the project will be around for a good long time.

Check Meteor out and let me know what you think.

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