in Gubatron


I strongly believe the REAL web 2.0 applications will run on something called XUL, as it is the web 1.9 not only runs on fancy javascript (aka AJAX), but it already does use XUL.

You might not know what XUL is, but if you’ ve been using Firefox, you’ ve experienced it.

In simple terms, XUL is a markup language (similar to HTML), that has a few more goodies that allow you to build rich user interfaces. When I say you’ve probably experienced XUL with Firefox, is because most of those wonderful extensions are built using XUL.

The only problem with XUL at the moment is that it’ s not supported by Internet Explorer (and I think it won’t be supported in IE7 which is a real shame). Oh, and it seems IE7 won’t fully compete with Firefox, I tried installing the beta on Windows 2000 and it wasn’t compatible…
Since a picture can explain more than a thousand words, I’ll show you a screenshot of XUL in action, and how things like this will truly change the face of the web for good.

Click on the picture to see in full size

From that picture you can see several things:

  • For starters, the gSpace extension (which I consider an web 2.0 app) allows me to use my Gmail account as a storage server (just like an ftp service).
  • It’s cross platform, all you need is a XUL enabled browse
  • You can use right click and have customized popup menus (which you can’t on regular HTML apps)
  • It has an extensive set of widgets that are not available for HTML, see the resizable tables all over the place. (Check out to see how XUL works with Javascript and CSS – If you’ re already using Javascript DOM objects and CSS, it’s not a steep learning curve you have to go through to start developing with XUL)
  • ” hmm, I wonder what I can build with this…?”

But the only problem is… it’s not available in IE, and it seems like there aren’ t any XUL plugins available for it (if you find one, please let me know)

So, I was looking for any solutions out there, and today Microsoft released another beta of IE7 with yet no mention whatsoever about XUL (come on Microsoft, you don’t need to spend millions in making people love you, all you have to do is release products that adapt to standards!!!, implement XUL for the sake of the web)

If Microsoft enabled XUL on IE7 they could gain something very valuable, they could gain all the Firefox extensions, or at least Firefox Extension developers would start making the modifications to be able to register their extensions in IE7 (if the IE7 team decides to enable an extension mechanism ever)

So it’s my hope that IE7 will include XUL, or maybe in one of its further “Service Packs”, oh, and also SVG support, then we could have full blown interfaces and vector graphics on the web, anything would be possible… but this is probably not in the best interests of Microsoft, they need to sell Desktop software.

So one day talking about XUL and it’s potential, someone told me you couldn’ t create products on hope, I’m not sure if that’s the way innovators think, but when you’re serious about mass distribution of your web apps you can’t be too romantic about innovation (Although I like to thing “If you build it they’ll come” and developers need to push for innovation)… however, there are some people that aren’t waiting for IE7 to include XUL support, and they’re already way ahead on the race of XUL development. Sascha Schumann is a long-time OpenSource contributor, book author and consultant. Programming for more than 17 years, he is currently leading multiple large XUL projects for clients. Sascha runs the XUL Weblog, a place where he shares his experiences and best practices when it comes to developing XUL applications.

One of the things that caught my eye on his blog, was a post that refered to a very interesting project that might allow bringing XUL to IE.

As every web developer knows, Mozilla is a far more advanced and cleaner web rendering engine, but it lacks something, it cannot be used as an Active X component, and IE can do this, and many applications already embed IE on them, examples are AOL, Encyclopedia Britanica, Encarta, and many others.

So based on this idea the Mozilla Active X Control project was born, they already have several versions of the Active X out there, they have instructions on how to install it and use it with, VB, C++ and Delphi. The Active X is only 4.5mb (not 10mb like the IE activex) since it includes the Gecko and a few things that it needs.

So yes, using that Active X control inside IE, you might be able to run XUL on it, but this still has to be tried, please be my guest, I’m not a windows user, and I wish I had the time to do more than blog about this.
And dreaming a little more, the perfect combo for a webdev, would probably be XUL + Python (instead of javascript) to have a real Object Oriented language and avoid problems you come across today with big javascript apps, (At least XPCOM components can be built using python) but that’s another story.

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