Revving Up Once:Radix for RAD Web Apps

Need to do forms development sans Access or Filemaker? Want rapid Web apps without Ruby on Rails? Want a rich Internet interface and abhor Ajax? Need PostgreSQL development, but don't do PHP? Just want a Java application without the, well, Java? Why not check out the once:radix Web-based RAD environment from once:technologies. And, by the way, did I mention it's open source?

It goes by the name of once:radix, a contraction of develop it once and RAD applications for intranets and extranets.

Last year I reported on the release of once:radix as an open source project under the terms of the GPL.

Rob Napier, once:technologies' managing director, was very pleased with the publicity the article generated at the time, and was keen to have a follow-up piece about the technology written.

I suggested a more in-depth review of once:radix and before I knew it I was participating in an online demonstration of the Web-based RAD environment.

Getting started

For the purpose of this review, I simply logged into once:technologies' demonstration server and proceeded to play around with once:radix.

If you want to download and install the application yourself, grab it from Sourceforge and satisfy its minimal dependencies, namely Java, Apache Tomcat and PostgreSQL.

If not, get in touch with once:technologies and request a demo.

Gotta love Firefox

Once:radix is completely Web-based allowing a level of freedom unprecedented in RAD development environments, which have traditionally relied on a fat client.

Ironically, however, once:radix does depend on the Firefox Web browser to function as intended. Yes Firefox is cross-platform, open source and well supported, but wedding an application to one type of browser is not what the Web is all about. If, for some moronic reason, an organization prohibits the use of Firefox, then what?

I spoke with Rob about this and the company is working to multi-browser compatibility and it's simply a matter of time and resources to make it happen.

In addition to this annoying dependency, once:radix is also a bit finicky when it comes to how Firefox is configured.

The default Firefox configuration for signed.applets.codebase_principal_support needs to be set to "true" and the prefs.js configuration file may need to be reset by the browser.

Again, after the demonstration I spoke with Rob about these issues and the company is looking at what can be done to streamline the user experience here.

Once:radix is really RAD

With the little hurdles behind me, it was time to get my hands dirty with once:radix.

The first thing that impressed me was the level of separation between data presentation and code logic. Fields and forms can be presented on a page with ease and then drilled down into for data types and scripting.

Database connectivity - done, CSS - done, HTML - done. It's all just there ready to be molded to your specific requirements.

So presenting forms on a blank page is like using Filemaker or Access without the flair associated with client GUI applications.

See the screen shots for what to expect when developing with once:radix. I was quite excited at how easy it is to begin building a Web application.

Applications built with once:radix can be open source or commercial and the application itself is dual-licensed.

Integration and hacking

Once:technologies insists once:radix is not a framework in the traditional sense, but it does have a lot in common with the Web application frameworks like Django, Ruby on Rails, and Spring.

The basic integration between components is done for you, but any Java coder can hack up servlets for once:radix to perform other repetitive tasks.

Conversely, once:radix differs from other open source Web application frameworks in the sense that it's a complete Web-based GUI RAD tool and not a set of standard components that used by developers to create a custom application.

According to Napier, once:radix is a complete development and delivery environment with "most of the hard work done for you".

"That's why people with less Web and database experience can build advanced business applications with our system."

Without the need to develop security or design database schema developers can focus purely on the end-user application.

For external communication once:radix has its own Web API, and the company is keen to get the open source community building servlets for easy integration of popular online services like Facebook.

There is already a range of Web API functions, from database connectivity to user management, and for Web services there is a SOAP-like API. Better servlet documentation is coming.

Other features include Rhino support for server-side scripting, caching, and two levels of native debugging.

Once:technologies claims applications developed with once:radix are as scalable as Java, Tomcat and PostgreSQL will allow them to be and an average server should be able to cater for 200 users.

What's good

Intuitive user interface

All Web-based

Reduced development complexity

What needs work

Dependent upon Firefox only

Browser needs to be configured

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