Discussion board and RIA technologies

In a previous blog post I was writing about the possibilities for the implementation of a new version of the Macaw Discussion Board. I mentioned a few technologies that I was looking at. The reason I am looking into those technologies is not only for the implementation of the discussion board, but also to have a look at what the best way would be to build the next generation Rich Internet Applications. Besides good old DHTML with Ajax technologies, Flash as a runtime platform looks like one of the possible ways to go for the near future.

A great overview of possibilities for developing for the Flash platform is given by Aral in this post. He also discusses NeoSwiff, a tool that allows you to write Flash Applications in C# .NET using Visual Studio 2003, and Xamlon Pro Flash Edition, which lets you use XAML to create your UI declaratively. As a .Net developer those last two alternative are especially interesting, because for me it will be .Net/C# that is used at the server side.

Darron also has a great post where he also discusses the problem with developer tools for creating RIA running on Flash. He also mentions NeoSwiff.

I dived in both Xamlon and NeoSwiff. The adventure with Xamlon was over soon. It integrates with both VS.NET 2005 and VS.NET 2003. I tried installation on multiple machines and I keep getting a warning that my license key expired. Even the forums of Xamlon couldn’t provide me with a solution.  I was also discouraged with this news post stating “… Xamlon is backing away from XAML, saying developers aren't really ready.”

I moved over to NeoSwiff, and I must say I’m impressed. One of my most important requirements is the possibility to easily create an application that resizes it’s controls when the window is resized. All I got during my Flash adventures was a zooming application. NeoSwiff is really great in this respect. See this post by Darran for a great example!

However, in the first two minutes of starting with NeoSwiff I encountered the three most important problems for me:

  • No direct support for web services 
  • No debugger
  • No UI designer

For the first and third point Jesus describes a solution. See his post. Completely happy with this results I continued with NeoSwiff. Everything went great. I designed a small UI in a normal C# .Net forms project, and copied over the code. Next part was the web service. I don’t want to do an HTTP GET call (function and parameters on the url) like Jesus does in his post. I wanted to call using either a soap message (using a HTTP POST) or through proxy code generated based on the WSDL of the service. NeoSwiff does not provide a tool to generate the proxy code, and the code produced by Microsoft’s wsdl.exe can’t be used. I had to go the manual way. But to no avail. NeoSwiff has two ways to do a request: XmlRequest (as used by Jesus) and WebRequest. With the XmlRequest it is not possible to specify the body of the request. You can only specify an url. The WebRequest provides a way to specify the body of the request, but only through a StringDictionary, resulting in name-value pairs as used in a post back from a HTML form. I also couldn’t change the content type, it remained application/x-www-form-urlencoded, the content type used on form post backs. I have been trying for hours and hours but I didn’t get any further. Maybe I missed something, maybe it is something they are still working on. Ig someone knows: please tell me!!

Of course I could work around the limitations by writing a set of web services I can always call through url syntax, but I want to reuse all available SharePoint web services. Thats my whole point: I want to build RIA’s againt web services.

I think the NeoSwiff platform can become a great platform if they succeed in getting access to web services working. It is so nice to work in VS.NET using code completion and all the power available in this IDE!



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