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Once there were browser wars - as in Mozilla vs Netscape vs Internet Explorer. But browser wars are so 1999. A decade later, the war has migrated from the browser in your computer to a place far from your computer's desktop: "the cloud."
Up above - or rather, across the country or even the world, where the banks of servers that make up the cloud reside - applications are running and data is churning back and forth between servers and clients (i.e. your desktop/laptop's browser). By centralizing applications on servers and enabling clients to access them on an "as needed" basis, companies and individuals can save money on server infrastructure storage costs, updating software and systems, reducing IT personnel costs and so on.
With the cloud holding so much promise, major Internet players are introducing platforms software developers can use to build applications that will work flawlessly on the desktop, even though they are located thousands of kilometers away.
But all is not clear in the cloud's future. The development of rich Internet applications has been stymied by several factors, including security concerns and the inability of browsers to handle the data being thrown at them, as well as the lack of Internet infrastructure available to deal with ambitious applications both developers and users are itching to be able to use on the net.
As all who have tried to access a sophisticated application online know, skips and stops are endemic on many sites, and there is much tapping of fingers and fussing with one's wristwatch while waiting impatiently for the stupid hourglass (or rainbow circle, for Mac users) to hurry up and let us work already!
And then there are the security issues, such as ensuring that the sensitive data being sent to and from the cloud is safe. As we all know, there are no guarantees when it comes to online data processing.
Hackers have been - and probably will continue to be - able to invade your privacy, compromise your information and steal your money, identity or worse. Until these two issues are resolved, many users and developers will probably run for shelter when the cloud gathers.
But don't blame the cloud, says Navot Peled, CEO of Israel's Gizmox. The problem with the cloud, she says, is that Web application developers keep trying to use old technologies to push advanced applications through an infrastructure and browser environment that just can't handle them.
"The Internet as we know it was built for light tasks: for text and low-resolution pictures," Peled says. "It was not built for the ambitious rich applications with video and other features that users demand and developers seek to build."
How, then, have developers managed to build anything halfway decent given this lack of resources? By patching up and extending existing technologies such as DHTML, which allows developers to add scripting to HTML pages, she says, adding: Those solutions only go so far because they're complicated, expensive to develop and insecure by nature.
But there is a solution, Peled says, and developers have used it to build more than 35,000 Web applications so far! The solution is Gizmox's Visual WebGui (http://www.visualwebgui.com/), a brand new, built-from-the-bottom-up platform for Web application development.
Visual WebGui is easy to use, provides far more capabilities for rich Web application development and is absolutely, totally, without question 100 percent secure. And besides all that, it's open source - a good thing if you are trying to promote your platform as the preferred one among Web app developers.
Which is exactly what Peled and his son, Guy, who actually developed the platform, are aiming for.
"We expect that within five years Visual WebGui will be the premiere commercial Web application development platform," the elder Peled says - surpassing Adobe's Flex, Microsoft's Silverlight and the up and coming solutions being promoted by companies like IBM, Mozilla and others.
That it is open source has helped spread the word, and currently the platform is being used by groups as diverse as Cisco, Sony, the US Army, the governments of Germany, Thailand, Canada, and several Israeli ministries, as well as thousands of individuals and small companies.
Visual WebGui does its magic by processing everything on the server and sending back metadata to the browser: very quick and easy on the pipeline, which Gizmox has also improved, using upgraded implementations of existing technologies, like Ajax.
"Visual WebGui works like a projector," Peled says. "The application stays on the server, with the user on the client side able to access and interact with everything exactly as if it was a traditional Ajax application that uses the browser as a running environment."
All processing is done on the server as well. That makes Visual WebGui unhackable: not "virtually unhackable," but actually unhackable. "Since we're just sending metadata and update commands, and the client does not contain any code, there's nothing for a hacker to monkey with," Peled says.
In fact, the company recently ran a hacker contest for the first time in the software industry, offering $10,000 to anyone who could successfully compromise the platform. The contest ran for four months, he says, "and can be still accessed on our site. Not a single one of the tens of thousands of hackers who tried were able to break the system."
Peled says his son began developing Visual WebGui four and a half years ago, after working for several years on developing desktop applications - where the only limit to an application's power is in the mind of the developer. "Guy decided that the Web deserved applications as rich as those that could be served on the desktop," he says.
The result, just a few years later, is Visual WebGui, which is giving the Internet biggies a run for their money. How much of a run?
"Just a few years ago Adobe bought Macromedia for $3.5 billion," Peled says. "I think Visual WebGui could be at least as big as Flash, if not bigger."