Welcome!

Java IoT Authors: Yeshim Deniz, Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan, Zakia Bouachraoui, Carmen Gonzalez

Related Topics: Java IoT, Microservices Expo

Java IoT: Article

User Interface Generation Tools: Silver Bullet or Fool's Gold?

User interface generation tools are something that has always been dear to my heart

User interface generation tools are something that has always been dear to my heart. I've enjoyed using them and have been fortunate enough to work on developing them. However, there's a huge tar pit to be avoided when using them on projects that I see people heading towards over and over again.

The problem crops up when one tries to automatically generate GUIs from a model. It doesn't matter what the model is; once upon a time it was a CORBA IDL or a relational database schema, today it's more likely to be a UML model, WSDL schema, RESTful API, or whatever the API du-jour happens to be.

The tool is pointed towards the model's metadata, wizards are launched, and, hey, presto. Alakazam, a brace of fully compliable screens are kicked out in seconds. Things are looking good so far - the application can connect to the messy backend, the GUIs will list elements with trees or tables of child elements, windows are peppered with Add/Edit/Remove buttons, typed attributes are turned into appropriate controls, and it looks like the project is off to a flying start. But beware - this is the same false feeling of well-being that occurs when walking downwind of a fast food restaurant on an empty stomach.

The first problem is that code-generated GUIs are just that - they look and operate as though they are, well, generated by a machine. I feel strongly that GUI software is more art than science, and that the GUI is the most important piece of any application. Musicians use technology to create sounds; animation studios to give life to cartoon characters; however the software's job is to let the artist get on with the job and facilitate the task, not replace them.

The problem with code-generated GUIs is when changes are required. The tool either has a zillion code-generation options that have to be mastered to tweak its output, or more likely you have to tell your users you can't change something awkward or clumsy because that's how the tool made it. This frustrates any skilled GUI developer who looks at the generated code and knows he is perfectly able to change it, but it's forbidden because it can't be round-tripped and would break the link from the model to the GUI.

At this point a standoff occurs between those who think that the model is the center of the universe and those who think that the GUI is more important. I'm firmly in the latter camp - I don't dislike modelling, but it's just a means to an end. The GUI developer has to have total and utter freedom to design something that is totally unconstrained in how it looks or behaves, how it navigates windows, how it reports errors, and so forth.

This has happened because we as an industry create new API protocols so fast that application developers are constantly chasing a shooting star looking for delivery shortcuts. Projects that start out backing one particular language, platform, and backend often find that by the time they're ready to ship the industry has moved on and their once state-of-the-art software looks obsolete.

However, rather than take this approach, I believe that the best route is to hold to the course and focus on the usability of the application and have first-class UI designers on your project to create something that looks like it's been built by developers who care about their user's experience and the beauty of their user interface, rather than the underlying data model. There is nothing wrong with code generation tools, however they should be viewed as cheap furniture - they'll hold up for a short period of time after which they'll bend/warp and crack before they need to be thrown away.  Great if you have a system to build with a short shelf life, however if the software is to have any longevity and you have a choice between investing in modellers who swear by code generation tools, or good developers who have the skill and knowledge to create good applications, for the sake of the user, back the latter.

More Stories By Joe Winchester

Joe Winchester, Editor-in-Chief of Java Developer's Journal, was formerly JDJ's longtime Desktop Technologies Editor and is a software developer working on development tools for IBM in Hursley, UK.

Comments (1)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


IoT & Smart Cities Stories
Dion Hinchcliffe is an internationally recognized digital expert, bestselling book author, frequent keynote speaker, analyst, futurist, and transformation expert based in Washington, DC. He is currently Chief Strategy Officer at the industry-leading digital strategy and online community solutions firm, 7Summits.
Digital Transformation is much more than a buzzword. The radical shift to digital mechanisms for almost every process is evident across all industries and verticals. This is often especially true in financial services, where the legacy environment is many times unable to keep up with the rapidly shifting demands of the consumer. The constant pressure to provide complete, omnichannel delivery of customer-facing solutions to meet both regulatory and customer demands is putting enormous pressure on...
IoT is rapidly becoming mainstream as more and more investments are made into the platforms and technology. As this movement continues to expand and gain momentum it creates a massive wall of noise that can be difficult to sift through. Unfortunately, this inevitably makes IoT less approachable for people to get started with and can hamper efforts to integrate this key technology into your own portfolio. There are so many connected products already in place today with many hundreds more on the h...
The standardization of container runtimes and images has sparked the creation of an almost overwhelming number of new open source projects that build on and otherwise work with these specifications. Of course, there's Kubernetes, which orchestrates and manages collections of containers. It was one of the first and best-known examples of projects that make containers truly useful for production use. However, more recently, the container ecosystem has truly exploded. A service mesh like Istio addr...
Digital Transformation: Preparing Cloud & IoT Security for the Age of Artificial Intelligence. As automation and artificial intelligence (AI) power solution development and delivery, many businesses need to build backend cloud capabilities. Well-poised organizations, marketing smart devices with AI and BlockChain capabilities prepare to refine compliance and regulatory capabilities in 2018. Volumes of health, financial, technical and privacy data, along with tightening compliance requirements by...
Charles Araujo is an industry analyst, internationally recognized authority on the Digital Enterprise and author of The Quantum Age of IT: Why Everything You Know About IT is About to Change. As Principal Analyst with Intellyx, he writes, speaks and advises organizations on how to navigate through this time of disruption. He is also the founder of The Institute for Digital Transformation and a sought after keynote speaker. He has been a regular contributor to both InformationWeek and CIO Insight...
Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life settlement products to hedge funds and investment banks. After, he co-founded a revenue cycle management company where he learned about Bitcoin and eventually Ethereal. Andrew's role at ConsenSys Enterprise is a mul...
To Really Work for Enterprises, MultiCloud Adoption Requires Far Better and Inclusive Cloud Monitoring and Cost Management … But How? Overwhelmingly, even as enterprises have adopted cloud computing and are expanding to multi-cloud computing, IT leaders remain concerned about how to monitor, manage and control costs across hybrid and multi-cloud deployments. It’s clear that traditional IT monitoring and management approaches, designed after all for on-premises data centers, are falling short in ...
In his general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, discussed how Dice leverages data insights and tools to help both tech professionals and recruiters better understand how skills relate to each other and which skills are in high demand using interactive visualizations and salary indicator tools to maximize earning potential. Manish Dixit is VP of Product and Engineering at Dice. As the leader of the Product, Engineering and Data Sciences team at D...
Dynatrace is an application performance management software company with products for the information technology departments and digital business owners of medium and large businesses. Building the Future of Monitoring with Artificial Intelligence. Today we can collect lots and lots of performance data. We build beautiful dashboards and even have fancy query languages to access and transform the data. Still performance data is a secret language only a couple of people understand. The more busine...