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Thoughts on the Html5 Hail Mary

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Facebook showed a slide apparently at a conference, about what HTML is lacking for building apps (see it here). To me, this could have been the first of a series of 20 or so slides. Funny that it basically says ‘no hope, no hope, no hope, oh, and I can‘t animate my broken messes.‘ Reminds me of the joke from Annie Hall: one woman says to another ‘the food here is awful‘ and the other says ‘yeah, and the portions are small.‘ Actually, we have taken the supersized portion from the HTML pot and the results have been a gigantic unmitigated disaster.

A week or so ago, the Typesafe guys released a new version of their website, and a product they are calling Activator. To me, the website looks like all other sites built in the last year: a Twitter Bootstrap template with some content poured in. Nice. Nothing wrong there, but it was given a ticker tape parade that would have made you think they fixed the web while remaking their site. Activator is from the long line of app bootstrapping tools. I hate to be a killjoy because I love a lot of what TS is doing these days, but I have some critical things to say about it. I will caveat those comments in these prefatory remarks: almost all the blame belongs to the doomed, blighted platform this is delivered upon.

So when I first read about Activator I thought ‘this is awesome!!‘ I have used the giter8 templates to create Akka projects. Have used a ton of bootstrappers from Maven archetypes, which I have also made, on through the Ant-gone-wild AppFuse, up through JBoss Forge, hell I even made one myself. I love the idea. And it was especially welcome too because I have recently become convinced that I would sooner make a cicada pie and eat it than put another minute into maven archetypes.

The good about Activator:

  • It not only generates a project, it gives you 4 templates to choose from, and each has something to teach, and does so pretty effectively.
  • You can immediately run the code and play with it
  • Includes some tests
  • Has an interactive tour of the code that is pretty effective, especially the one that means to teach Reactive modeling
  • Does a good job of explaining the work cycle, e.g. change a page and refresh (no restart)

The bad:

  • It‘s basically a terminal and then an HTML5 interface, and once you start one thing rolling, you are doomed, e.g. you start making a new project, you want to cancel, nope can‘t (seriously, I think you‘d have to go back to the 60s to find that as a normative, accepted reality in computing)
  • The form only asks for a few things, one is the directory. You can type in it (have fun there) or click a folder icon, but in Safari, you click on the folder and NOTHING HAPPENS. I opened it in Firefox and it led me into a horrible folder selection mechanism that made me think if I fat fingered it, I‘d be facing the Inquisitor and his pointy hat.
  • Once the project is complete it gave me the option to open in Eclipse, and detected that I did not have project files yet! I thought, wow, this is uptown. Generated them. But then I moved the project in Finder to my workspace and opened in eclipse. Didn‘t work. Was looking for libs in the old location.

The hilarious:

  • no way to delete a project
  • clearly no way to make new templates, although looked again, does not seem super complicated, would love to see a bootstrap template!
  • once you give it a folder, it does not create a folder for your project! it just dumps the files there, so pointing to the workspace you are using will not work (!!)
  • pretty much no doc, the page shows the couple steps to make a project then says see ya

Seriously, continuing to feed the HTML5 as an app platform is insane. More and more stories come out every day of teams developing on ios and then porting to HTML and/or Android. Makes sense. I took a look last night at using Bootstrap and Play together. Looks like that will be a better marriage than many of the other also ran frameworks that have come in to say they are going to support bootstrap, but still, a million apps? yeah, never.

How did something like this even get released?? I mean no one tested it on Safari? Or they just think Chrome is so hipster-preferred that if you are in Safari you deserve a non-response on the first page? No, it got released because after all this time, and countless attempts to rebirth it, we all know what HTML is, the silly incontinence has finally been answered with the acceptance that the diaper is never coming off..

Ok, this thing is insanely broken. Finally running back and forth between two browsers got a project open in eclipse, and now it says that controllers.routes is not found. This is run the wizards then open the result. Went back and did it again. This time it opened in eclipse with just a bunch of warnings. The project configuration is super ugly: the jars are all just piled into the root of the project. At least looks like I could do some work on it. So happens I made a new iOS project yesterday. That took about 5 minutes, and that included doing an initial commit to a remote repository. This took at least 10 passes, and having done it, I‘ve learned a bunch of worthless do this, don‘t do that crap. Exactly what you don‘t want from a tool like this. Sad…

This is not going to advance the causes of using Play or Akka, sadly… not in its current state. Fail here on the execution side. The aim was right, and there are a lot of commendable features, but, um, yeah nope….

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Published at DZone with permission of Rob Williams, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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