Managing windows inside a Web browser page

* WinLike DHTML-based windows manager

When you build Web applications, there are several levels of user interface presented on the client. The most primitive is a simple HTML interface with forms, while JavaScript augmentation is arguably the next step up.

At the top end comes complex embedded executables such as ActiveX components (applicable to perhaps 50% or 60% of the browser market), Java applets (complex to build, often involve compatibility issues, and overweight for consumers), or Flash applications (also complex to build but accessible by more than 90% of browsers).

A middle ground in terms of complexity but also in some ways a different path than the embedded executables is the idea of a window manager.

As you might guess a window manager, er, manages windows inside a Web browser page. The windows are separate regions of the screen that can overlap, be resized, have their Z-order (the layering of windows in the "depth" of the screen) controlled, or be dismissed. Moreover each window displays content that is separate from the other windows on the page so when the content of a window changes only that window and not the entire page is redrawn.

Why does this matter? Because the presentation of a Web application built to use a window manager will look familiar to Web users - they will interact with a user interface that is completely flat like basic HTML driven UIs but like the Windows or Macintosh UI.

The only system I have seen that allows you to build such an interface is WinLike (see editorial links below) from Ceiton Technologies. WinLike is remarkable in being low overhead, providing window creation and editing tools, and being pure DHTML that runs cross platform.

WinLike is tiny adding a mere 27K-bytes to a WinLike-enabled Web page and works "without any plugins in the Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5 and Netscape Navigator 6.1 or higher and other related browsers (Mozilla 0.92, Firebird 0.7, Galeon, Avant etc.,) and also Lynx or search engines," according to the authors. Even better, no back-end server code is required.

WinLike has a complex feature list that includes:

* Each window content is loaded separately from the server.

* Background changing does not destroy the open windows.

* Links with TARGETs can load content into a window.

* History for each window.

* Overlapping combo-boxes support.

* Different skins for windows and different languages on one HTML page.

* Formula based relative and absolute window positioning behavior.

* Drag & Save links for saving a whole site in a simple link.

* Personalization with cookies.

* Audio warning sound effects.

* Transparent windows and skins.

* There's even an API for window control.

To create a window you invoke the editor, specify parameters such as the skin to use, where to load content from, whether the window is to be movable and or resizable, and then when you hit the editor's save button, a block of code is generated that you simply paste into your Web page.

WinLike comes with lots of examples and as far as I've got into it the documentation is very good.

You've got to be able to create some killer Web applications with this tool set and for $80 for a single commercial server license (you can use WinLike for free for non-commercial purposes such as personal sites, education, in freeware, etc.) you can afford to.

WinLike is definitely one of the most remarkable Web application building tools I've seen for a long time.

Learn more about this topic

Ceiton Technologies

WinLike

WinLess (the WinLike Web site without WinLike support)

Developer information

WinLike licensing  

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Network World, 07/18/05
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