Curl Takes Web Apps to Clients

Application development solution can turn server-based Web applications into interactive client applications.

A Cambridge, Mass., startup is set to deliver an application development solution that turns the thin-client model of Web computing on its head, recalling the day when fat clients ruled the enterprise.

Curl Corp., founded out of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology project in 1998, next week will announce its Client/Web platform and components, the Curl Surge Runtime Environment and Surge Lab Integrated Development Environment. Together, the package can turn server-based Web applications into interactive client applications that require significantly less data to be transferred between a server and a Web browser.

As opposed to traditional Web applications that run on the server, Curl applications are downloaded from the server to a client browser, making data requests to the servers and back-end repositories, said Curl founder and Chief Architect David Kranz. As a result, application code and data are downloaded only as needed.

"The Curl language allows developers to do text formatting, scripting and presentation all in one, when, before, developers had to treat these as separate layers," said Kranz. He said the Client/Web platform is not trying to replace Java or Microsoft Corp.s .Net applications but rather extend them.

Client/Web early adopter Siemens AG has already realized gains in faster development, reduced server and bandwidth consumption, and increased end-user productivity.

The Munich, Germany, company used an early version of Curl technology to create a new interface for a global EIS (executive information system) that was languishing from nonuse.

With the help of system integrator Imisys Gmbh, of Kolbermoor, Germany—one of 18 integrator partners that Curl will announce next week—Siemens had a new EIS front end working within two weeks.

With a more attractive and more functional interface, actual utilization of the system increased to 83 percent, said Siemens CIO Edmundo Ruiz, who added that speed and flexibility were key enhancements for users.

"The information you get for a new screen is only the data you need—you dont need any of the graphics within the Web page," Ruiz said. "That is all generated locally."

In the server-based Web paradigm, Ruiz said, new data being called to a Web page requires the en- tire page to be loaded again.

"With Curl, you only download the data," Ruiz said. "There are significant benefits because the data are only a fraction" of the size of a traditional Web page.

In actuality, each user requires the Curl run-time, which is 3.8MB, on his or her PC. By comparison, Sun Microsystems Inc.s Java 2 Runtime Environment, Standard Edition Version 1.4.0_01 is 9.4MB.

The run-time could be installed through a network on first use, said Curl officials, or pre-loaded for mobile users. Once the run-time is in place, initial downloads of application code are usually smaller than 50KB, they said.

Other differences between Curl applications and Web applications are akin to the differences between Microsoft Corp.s Outlook mail client and the companys Hotmail service: rich functionality vs. static and slow Web page refreshes.

"Curl restores a lot of power that is missing in Web interface computing," said Randy Souza, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge. "Web-based computing limits the function of a real piece of software."

Since Curl applications require the Curl run-time, one of the challenges Curl faces is figuring out convenient ways to distribute the run-time to business partners or external groups, Souza said.

According to Souza, developers will have to be reacquainted with the "lost art" of client interface design.

"The biggest retraining challenge is going to be getting programmers to design a software interface as opposed to a Web interface," Souza said.

Nevertheless, Siemens has found that the the new paradigm is compelling enough to change the way in which the enterprise distributes information. For example, one Curl interface can be shared among executives in meetings around the world simultaneously.

"We are in the process of internally changing the way we manage all of our information," Siemens Ruiz said. "We are pooling our processes, putting all of our information management process on Curl."

Due next month and starting at $25,000, Client/Web includes the following features: Atomization, a Curl technique for compressing application code; a new Visual GUI Editor, which resembles Visual Basic; and a security model that gives administrators control of local and server resources available to the Curl application.

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Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture,...