The UX of SmartClient

The other day I blogged about a list of RIA frameworks.  Apparently TheServerSide.com picked it up and spiked the traffic.  Anyway, by the end of the review, I came across SmartClient and I was tired of RIA Frameworks and they all looked the same.  I gave them too quick of a look and moved on.

Coincidentally they are sponsoring The Ajax Experience where I am speaking today.  I sat down and took a much closer look.  On their homepage, I cliked Explore to view the demo browser.  I didn’t particularly like the layout.  The tree is so separated from the middle canvas.  It looks wierd.  However, once I got past that, I actually started to like how it was explained.

The Source and preview were clearly marked and explained.  I sort of like the model better where the examples are on vanilla pages and you can view source, but this was the next best thing.

The interaction design was mostly good.  One nit, they need to make the cursor into a hand-pointer when its over something clickable.  The specific graphic design was fine, but the rep showed me a pretty cool feature.  You could define in the JS the base images used to make rounded corners and shadows.  Of course, I am hesitant to accept presentation and behavior in the same layer, but this has been someething that we have done for better or worse in Marketo too.

The base image was then used according to a naming scheme to make the right, left and middle sections.  This applied to bars, tabs, panels, etc.  I thought this was pretty clever.

The syntax reminded me alot of ExtJS where you instantiate objects with a ton of “options”.  The API Browser has some subtle design problems like spacing in the layout or the filter on the top left doesn’t dynamically filter.  However, it was comprehensive which is important.

I guess my main thought was, “How come I never heard of you guys?”  The answer was probably that Marketing/PR has taken a backseat for many years.  Looking at it, I would say it is worth a look for anyone in the market for a RIA framework.

My bottom line is: B+.  Some nice stuff like the skinning.  It’s all there, but the edges seem a little under-designed.  Those little touches are so important in my thinking.  Still, not bad.

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