IBM Launches Maqetta HTML5 Tool as Open-Source Answer to Flash, Silverlight

IBM announced Maqetta, an HTML5 authoring tool for building desktop and mobile user interfaces, and also announced the contribution of the open-source technology to the Dojo Foundation.

LAS VEGAS - At the IBM Impact 2011 conference here, IBM announced both Maqetta as well as the open-source contribution of its Maqetta HTML5 visual authoring tool to the Dojo Foundation.

Maqetta is an open-source project that provides WYSIWYG visual authoring of HTML5 user interfaces using drag-and-drop assembly, and supports both desktop and mobile user interfaces. The Maqetta application itself is authored in HTML, and therefore runs in the browser without requiring additional plug-ins or downloads. Maqetta is available under an open-source license. Ands users can download the source code and install it on their own server, customize the code to fit their needs and contribute improvements to the open-source project.

IBM officials said HTML5 is an umbrella term for dozens of new features that ship in modern browsers (desktop and mobile) that allow rich user interfaces, graphics, multimedia and fast performance using open standards. HTML5 ships in the latest versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Apple Safari, and on smartphones, including iPhone, Android, RIM BlackBerry and Windows 7 Mobile.

"The problem in a nutshell is the Ajax ecosystem falls short in terms of tooling as compared to the likes of Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight and similar tools," said Rod Smith, vice president of Emerging Internet Technologies at IBM, told eWEEK. Maqetta is pronounced like "Maketta" and is a spelling variation of "maqueta," the Spanish word for mock-up, David Boloker, chief technology officer for Emerging Internet Technologies at IBM Software Group, told eWEEK.

"We had 120 companies in the OpenAjax Alliance and the biggest complaint was interoperation of the widgets and the need for visual tooling, so we decided to address that," Boloker said. "Our idea was to do everything on the Web."

The Maqetta application itself is authored in HTML5/Ajax, and therefore runs in the browser without requiring additional plug-ins or downloads. Maqetta features include:

  • a WYSIWYG visual page editor for drawing out user interfaces;
  • a drag/drop mobile UI authoring within an exact-dimension device silhouette, such as the silhouette of an iPhone;
  • simultaneous editing in either design or source views;
  • deep support for CSS styling (the application includes a full CSS parser/modeler);
  • a mechanism for organizing a UI prototype into a series of "application states" (aka "screens" or "panels"), which allows a UI design to define interactivity without programming;
  • a Web-based review and commenting feature where the author can submit a live UI mock-up for review by his team members;
  • a "wire-framing" feature that allows UI designers to create UI proposals that have a hand-drawn look;
  • a theme editor for customizing the visual styling of a collection of widgets;
  • export options that allow for smooth hand-off of the UI mock-ups into leading developer tools such as Eclipse; and
  • its code base has a toolkit-independent architecture that allows for plugging in arbitrary widget libraries and CSS themes.
The Preview 1 release of the Maqetta application is available for the community to use for free at the open-source project's Website, Alternatively, users can download builds that they can install on their own servers.

The primary target users for Maqetta are user-experience designers, or UXD, within enterprise development teams, with the goal of improving overall team efficiency around HTML5 application development. To support enterprise team development, Maqetta's extensible architecture allows plug-in widget libraries and plug-in CSS styling themes, including company-specific libraries and themes, Boloker said. Maqetta includes a sophisticated and extensible CSS theme editor.

Adam Peller, a senior engineer in IBM's Emerging Internet Technologies group, a co-creator of Maqetta and also a contributor to the Dojo Toolkit project, said, "We're trying to focus on the user-experience problem, particularly for user-designers. He said the goal has been to improve the designer developer workflow on projects, as well as to enable designers to do as much of the development work as they can on their own. Peller said the Maqetta team at IBM worked extensively with hundreds of designers at the company to make sure they knew what designers were looking for in a tool.

"By contributing Maqetta to the Dojo Foundation as open-source and free-hosted software, IBM hopes to build a community of users and open-source developers working together toward strong visual tools for creating HTML5-based user interfaces," Boloker said in a statement. "Our targets are the desktop Web, the mobile Web and cross-platform installed mobile applications. We see Maqetta as particularly attractive to enterprise development teams where UI designers need to work in partnership with development teams."

As of the April 11 announcement of the technology, IBM donated Maqetta to the Dojo Foundation, which hosts more than a dozen open-source initiatives, including the Dojo Toolkit, RequireJS, CometD, EmbedJS, Persevere, Wink Toolkit and OpenCoweb

"The Dojo Foundation is excited by IBM's open-source contribution of Maqetta, which fills a major hole in the HTML5 ecosystem around visual tooling," Dylan Schiemann, president at the Dojo Foundation and CEO at SitePen, said in a statement. "Maqetta is a great complement to other initiatives at the Dojo Foundation, particularly our mobile initiatives, such as, Wink Toolkit, EmbedJS, and the integration of these with PhoneGap. The technology will make it easier for new developers to get started with various HTML5 technologies, including other Dojo Foundation initiatives such as the Dojo Toolkit and our emerging mobile widget sets."

The Maqetta project was launched inside IBM to address its own needs for more efficient development of desktop and mobile applications. The initial requirements and feature set for Maqetta were defined by IBM's various product teams in partnership with IBM's Design Leadership team.

"Strong visual tools are essential toward improving IBM's efficiency at delivering compelling and intuitive user interfaces. IBM offers hundreds of leading-edge software applications, nearly all of which provide advanced user interfaces running in the browser." Karel Vredenburg, director of IBM User Interface Design, said in a statement. "Inside IBM, Maqetta will be our strategic tool for designing and reviewing user interfaces, both desktop and mobile. It will help our product teams comply with our internal user-interface standards and guidelines, and will help our customers extend and customize our products."

Maqetta mockups are actual running HTML5/Ajax applications that can be modified incrementally by developers into a production application. The Maqetta project is working in partnership with the Eclipse Foundation's recently announced Orion project to deliver developer tools in the browser, and is making use of the Orion source-code editor. Optionally, Maqetta workspaces can be easily exported into Eclipse-based developer tools, such as the Eclipse Workbench or IBM Rational Application Developer.

The majority of the Maqetta application is authored using open-standard browser technologies, such as JavaScript, HTML and CSS. The Maqetta application includes a simple REST-based server that is implemented using Java and OSGi, and can be integrated into Java Enterprise Edition (Java EE) enterprise servers, such as IBM WebSphere Application Server.

"Browser-based tools represent the new frontier, Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, said in a statement. "Last month we launched OrionHub for source development in the browser. We are excited about the integration between Maqetta's designer features and Eclipse Foundation's initiatives around developer tools, including both our highly popular Eclipse IDE and our emerging Orion project. We look forward to ongoing collaboration and technology sharing between Maqetta and our various initiatives at Eclipse."

Maqetta includes a Web-based review-and-commenting feature where authors can invite team members to provide feedback via blog-style comments or on-screen annotations. For mobile development, Maqetta allows the author to choose among various mobile device silhouettes so that the user interface can be designed in the context of the actual size of the target device.

"Maqetta is both timely and important, Alex Russell, co-founder of the Dojo Toolkit project and a software engineer at Google, said in a statement. "As development becomes distributed and data moves to the cloud, it's natural for development to move there, too. The browser-as-platform is what Dojo has always strived to achieve, and Maqetta fills a critical need to make that a reality. I'm happy and proud that the Dojo Foundation can serve as a home for this important work".

The Maqetta application is currently at the preview level. By engaging with the community with Maqetta at an early stage, IBM hopes to collaborate both on product requirements and on open-source development, with the goal that future releases of Maqetta will deliver strong tools for UI design and an efficient workflow between UI design and production development.