Welcome!

Java IoT Authors: Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan, William Schmarzo, Stackify Blog

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) View Comments

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.


Most Recent Comments
Kennard Consulting 10/15/09 04:18:00 AM EDT

Hi Joe,

Great article. I was hoping to direct your interest to my Open Source project, Metawidget. It is a User Interface Generation Tool, but tries hard to address both the problems you outlined.

With regard to your first problem, Metawidget does not try to generate the whole UI: it doesn't 'own' everything. It only generates those parts that are monotonous and error-prone to code (typically input forms), leaving the developer and their existing gamut of UI tools to develop the rest of the application. It does not dictate which UI platform you use, and supports many different toolkits on many different devices.

With regard to your second problem, Metawidget does not use static code generation. When changes are required, there is no need to regenerate or edit generated code. Rather, Metawidget inspects objects and generates UIs for them at runtime.

I would be most grateful if you could take a look at Metawidget and let me know your thoughts.

Regards,

Richard.

@ThingsExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that NetApp has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. NetApp is the data authority for hybrid cloud. NetApp provides a full range of hybrid cloud data services that simplify management of applications and data across cloud and on-premises environments to accelerate digital transformation. Together with their partners, NetApp em...
What is the best strategy for selecting the right offshore company for your business? In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Alan Winters, U.S. Head of Business Development at MobiDev, will discuss the things to look for - positive and negative - in evaluating your options. He will also discuss how to maximize productivity with your offshore developers. Before you start your search, clearly understand your business needs and how that impacts software choices.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Interface Corporation will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Interface Corporation is a company developing, manufacturing and marketing high quality and wide variety of industrial computers and interface modules such as PCIs and PCI express. For more information, visit http://www.i...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Keisoku Research Consultant Co. will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Keisoku Research Consultant, Co. offers research and consulting in a wide range of civil engineering-related fields from information construction to preservation of cultural properties. For more information, vi...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MIRAI Inc. will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MIRAI Inc. are IT consultants from the public sector whose mission is to solve social issues by technology and innovation and to create a meaningful future for people.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Fusic will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Fusic Co. provides mocks as virtual IoT devices. You can customize mocks, and get any amount of data at any time in your test. For more information, visit https://fusic.co.jp/english/.
SYS-CON Events announced today that N3N will exhibit at SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. N3N’s solutions increase the effectiveness of operations and control centers, increase the value of IoT investments, and facilitate real-time operational decision making. N3N enables operations teams with a four dimensional digital “big board” that consolidates real-time live video feeds alongside IoT sensor data a...
Mobile device usage has increased exponentially during the past several years, as consumers rely on handhelds for everything from news and weather to banking and purchases. What can we expect in the next few years? The way in which we interact with our devices will fundamentally change, as businesses leverage Artificial Intelligence. We already see this taking shape as businesses leverage AI for cost savings and customer responsiveness. This trend will continue, as AI is used for more sophistica...
Real IoT production deployments running at scale are collecting sensor data from hundreds / thousands / millions of devices. The goal is to take business-critical actions on the real-time data and find insights from stored datasets. In his session at @ThingsExpo, John Walicki, Watson IoT Developer Advocate at IBM Cloud, will provide a fast-paced developer journey that follows the IoT sensor data from generation, to edge gateway, to edge analytics, to encryption, to the IBM Bluemix cloud, to Wa...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Massive Networks, that helps your business operate seamlessly with fast, reliable, and secure internet and network solutions, has been named "Exhibitor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. As a premier telecommunications provider, Massive Networks is headquartered out of Louisville, Colorado. With years of experience under their belt, their team of...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Enroute Lab will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Enroute Lab is an industrial design, research and development company of unmanned robotic vehicle system. For more information, please visit http://elab.co.jp/.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Mobile Create USA will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Mobile Create USA Inc. is an MVNO-based business model that uses portable communication devices and cellular-based infrastructure in the development, sales, operation and mobile communications systems incorporating GPS capabi...
There is huge complexity in implementing a successful digital business that requires efficient on-premise and cloud back-end infrastructure, IT and Internet of Things (IoT) data, analytics, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Digital Applications. In the data center alone, there are physical and virtual infrastructures, multiple operating systems, multiple applications and new and emerging business and technological paradigms such as cloud computing and XaaS. And then there are pe...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SIGMA Corporation will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. uLaser flow inspection device from the Japanese top share to Global Standard! Then, make the best use of data to flip to next page. For more information, visit http://www.sigma-k.co.jp/en/.
SYS-CON Events announced today that B2Cloud will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. B2Cloud specializes in IoT devices for preventive and predictive maintenance in any kind of equipment retrieving data like Energy consumption, working time, temperature, humidity, pressure, etc.
While some developers care passionately about how data centers and clouds are architected, for most, it is only the end result that matters. To the majority of companies, technology exists to solve a business problem, and only delivers value when it is solving that problem. 2017 brings the mainstream adoption of containers for production workloads. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Ben McCormack, VP of Operations at Evernote, will discuss how data centers of the future will be managed, how th...
Agile has finally jumped the technology shark, expanding outside the software world. Enterprises are now increasingly adopting Agile practices across their organizations in order to successfully navigate the disruptive waters that threaten to drown them. In our quest for establishing change as a core competency in our organizations, this business-centric notion of Agile is an essential component of Agile Digital Transformation. In the years since the publication of the Agile Manifesto, the conn...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Nihon Micron will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Nihon Micron Co., Ltd. strives for technological innovation to establish high-density, high-precision processing technology for providing printed circuit board and metal mount RFID tags used for communication devices. For more inf...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Suzuki Inc. will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Suzuki Inc. is a semiconductor-related business, including sales of consuming parts, parts repair, and maintenance for semiconductor manufacturing machines, etc. It is also a health care business providing experimental research for...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Ryobi Systems will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Ryobi Systems Co., Ltd., as an information service company, specialized in business support for local governments and medical industry. We are challenging to achive the precision farming with AI. For more information, visit http:...