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Feb 17, 2012

Choosing a HTML5 framework for Openbravo Mobile

Openbravo 3 is a great product built on top of SmartClient library. SmartClient is a great framework that provides a set of UI components for building enterprise size, data driven applications, but it targets desktop browsers and is not well suited for mobile devices. You could make it work on a tablet device with some simplification of the UI you’re building, but when it comes to a smartphone, is way too heavy.

One of the key projects of Openbravo in 2012, is the support for mobile devices. In the last few weeks I’ve been doing some research on the available frameworks for mobile web development.

You can make a list of available HTML5 frameworks from developer community driven sites like Stack Overflow
or Hacker News:

We can complete the previous list with other libraries targeting mobile devices like:

Splitting the list in two groups

The list of available frameworks can be divided in two groups based on their approach to solve the problem:

  1. You need to generate HTML code and the library is just an abstraction on top of the DOM that helps you with the user interaction (gestures, tapping, etc)
  2. You rely and “talk” JavaScript then the framework takes care of generating the necessary HTML code for building the UI component, plus helping with the user interaction (capturing events, etc)

From our experience in building Openbravo 3, the latter approach is preferred. It’s easier to write something like isc.Window.create({width: 600, height: 400}); than building the tree structure of DIVs for building a window, apply CSS styles and then test in the different supported browsers.

I went through the list of available frameworks. For example, jQuery Mobile takes the first approach. You need to create HTML tags and annotate them with some attributes like data-role in a list.

On the other hand, with Sencha Touch you “talk JavaScript” and the library takes care of building the UI component. Unfortunately Sencha Touch is released under GPLv3 license and is not compatible with Openbravo Public License (OBPL), so Sencha Touch is not an option.

For the same licensing reason Kendo UI and DHTMLX Touch discarded too.

Other libraries

There are other interesting libraries like Bakbone.js or Ember.js.

Backbone.js “gives structure to web applications” and is usually used with jQuery or Zepto, and Ember.js (previously SproutCore 2.0) aims to eliminate “boilerplate and provides a standard application architecture”. A comparison between the two libraries can be found on Backbone and Ember

Other Approaches

There are other attempts to use Google Web Toolkit combined with PhoneGap to build mobile applications. You can check the Webcast made by O’Reilly Creating Mobile Apps with GWT and PhoneGap.

Conclusion

We haven’t decided yet which framework we’ll use, but we prefer to use a library that will help us eliminating the need of generating HTML code.

We are still iterating over the available choices, but probably we’ll make a decision in a few weeks.

If you have experience in mobile web development and want to give us a hint, we’ll love to hear from you. Drop us a line in our Open Discussion forum thread.

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