Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

Cranking up the Gears

Over our Australia Day long weekend, our dev team added Gears support to our Influencing media relations platform.

Our MediaConnect and ITJourno portals are very much Rich Internet Applications (RIA) – they makes heavy use of javascript, with a big initial load and then no page refreshes except for loading content. We’ve built them with the intention that they are a tool our clients will use regularly throughout the day and that justifies the significant up-front load. However for our casual users, I can understand why that initial load has been frustrating. We’ve also suffered problems because IE renders Javascript pages so slowly in comparison to other browsers .

With Gears support, and particularly when loaded from Chrome, what previously might have taken 30 seconds or more to load completely is now down to less than 10 seconds. Chrome also lets users create an application shortcut which  pretty much transforms our website into a desktop-style application. Firefox3 is not too far behind in performance and Prism can also be used to create the desktop-like experience, although its a more complicated process than the one-click Chrome function.

We started re-architecting our site three-years ago with the expectation that RIAs would be common-place by now and browsers and other new technologies would be optimised to support that kind of environment. We launched early last year and the fact that Internet standards, browsers and related technologies had not progressed as we might have expected has been annoying and frustrating. Don’t even get me started on the amount of time we spent having to develop work-arounds for IE6. If you’d have told me 3 years ago, we would still have a significant group of users stuck on IE6 I’d have laughed out loud.

I’m thankful IE8 is getting close to coming out of beta, although reports suggest that the performance gains are modest, when compared to Chrome and Firefox3, but I’ll take any progress over none.  It’s probably going to take another iteration for Microsoft to get IE to where competitive browsers are now, and that’s probably when developers will get bolder with RIA-style functionality. In the meantime, though, we have Gears and a stable Chrome and a decent environment with FF3 that we can point users too, but we’d much rather not have to recommend one browser over any other. 

Sometimes, moving at “internet-speed” isn’t moving very quickly at all.

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

Syncing getting better but still a way to go

Regular Squash readers will know that I’ve followed the online/offline space very closely for a long-time and have followed the emergence of various synching products as they’ve come to market.

I’ve favoured SugarSync for quite a while, who just this week announced another $10 million capital raising which I’m hoping will keep the innovation ticking over with those guys.

However, it appears they are going to need to as there are some very cool new services hitting the market, including ZumoDrive, profiled by TechCrunch yesterday.

ZumoDrive isn’t actually a synching tool – rather it tricks your desktop into thinking its using the local drive when in actual fact its saving your file to the cloud.

Unfortunately, I missed out on a beta invite so can’t report on how it works but it would need the option to override as there are just some files I want on my desktop. However, for many devices like older PCs and netbooks where you might not have a big whopping hard drive this is an awesome idea.

Reading the ZumoDrive story on TechCrunch I also stumbled across Syncplicity, which I see has what for me has been the biggest failing with SugarSync – file sharing! SugarSync is supposed to be rolling this feature out in January but its already apart of Syncplicity so I’m keen to see how it works. And I’m going to have to give Microsoft’s Mesh another go, shortly.

The reality is all of these products are still fairly immature. Here’s my wishlist.

1. More intuitive synching between XP and Vista – because XP and Vista structure their file system slightly different; ie in XP My videos, My pictures, etc are under My Documents while in Vista they run in parallel so it’s difficult to get these folders synching correctly. I’m sure the problem also exists synching across non-Windows operating systems

2. Rule-based synching. I’d like to be able to set up rules as to what gets synched, what gets stored on my hard drive, what is offline. For example, I’d like all documents older than a month to be online-only (although still look like there in my file system) but not to sync any large videos because it blows my download quotas. I’m sure everyone has different needs based on their download limits, how many computers they use etc.

3. Shared folders with rules for who can do what in the folder

4. Intelligent updating so that every time you change a large file it only changes the bit you’ve changed rather than having to re-upload and download the entire file

5. The ability to also synch to external services. I’d like any file I put in My Pictures to automatically upload to Facebook or Smugmug.

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

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