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

One Response

  1. Hey Phil

    As a regular reader and occasional contributor to ITJ, that load at the start is heavy. I can understand your position that you want it to be a place that users keep open and use as a business tool during the day but, at least from the journo point of view, I’m not sure that’s right. I can only speak for myself in saying that there are two major things i want from ITJ – a quick look at what’s new each day and the ability to quickly and easily search for contacts. The rest of my day is spent doing research and writing. IT can’t really help me with those (except for press releases and I get them by email and/or RSS already in any case).

    All the other stuff actually gets in the way. It’d be neat if there was a “lite” version of the site where I could see the last three stories and easily search the contact list.

    Oh – and the site needs to work faster with every browser. I’m not going to install Chrome or anything else just to get better/faster access to ITJ. At least on the journo side of the fence, there’s an increasing number of Mac users.

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