Apple's open secret: SproutCore is Cocoa for the Web

Posted:
in Mac Software edited January 2014
One of the biggest revelations at WWDC was quietly unveiled in a session on Friday morning entitled "Building Native Look-and-Feel Web Applications Using SproutCore." While Apple maintained high security during the entire NDA-sealed WWDC session, the secret of SproutCore is out because it is an open source project and people can't stop talking about it.



As Apple's public schedule for WWDC explained, "SproutCore is an open source, platform-independent, Cocoa-inspired JavaScript framework for creating web applications that look and feel like Desktop applications. Learn how to combine SproutCore with HTML5's standard offline data storage technologies to deliver a first-class user experience and exceptional performance in your web application."



The secrets of SproutCore first tumbled out of the bag last fall, when it was revealed that .Mac Web Gallery had been built using the framework. Originally developed by Charles Jolley of SproutIt for use in his online email manager named Mailroom, the SproutCore framework goes beyond other JavaScript frameworks because it is designed to build entire rich applications on the web rather than just adding some animation or sizzle to web pages.



Open Help for JavaScript.



JavaScript is a powerful language that, thanks to its bundling with all modern web browsers, is very widely deployed. However, there is a paucity of strong tools for building anything more than basic scripts to kick off web animations and other dynamic behaviors. That has opened the door for proprietary tools such as Adobe Flash, which is built around ActionScript, which is itself based upon JavaScript.



As outlined in the series Flash Wars: Adobe in the History and Future of Flash, Flash provides a large framework on top to handle things that aren't easy to do in JavaScript itself, but that also requires distributing a Flash plugin runtime. Web applications coded in Flash are no longer interpreted in the web browser itself, but in Adobe's plugin. That makes developers dependent upon Adobe, and also leaves platform vendors such as Apple reliant upon Adobe to provide suitable runtime plugins for their products.



Adobe's Flash plugin for the Mac has long been a second class citizen because Adobe has focused on its Windows version; Steve Jobs also stated that Adobe didn't offer a mobile runtime appropriate for the iPhone, only a Flash Lite version that wasn't capable of running existing desktop Flash content and a desktop version that wasn't suited to run on a mobile device, as described in Steve Jobs pans Flash on the iPhone.



In place of using Flash on its own website, Apple has been working with a number of open scripting frameworks such as Prototype and Script.aculo.us, which mentions Apple on the front page of its website as a high profile user. Those frameworks offer prebuilt code that has been polished to work on all browsers, making it easier for the developer to concentrate on what their web page should be doing rather than repeatedly reinventing the wheel for various low level functions. In that respect, open JavaScript frameworks can replace Flash without requiring any secondary plugin runtime because they are simply open JavaScript that runs in the browser directly.



Introducing SproutCore



Jolley's SproutIt decided to move past common scripting frameworks to develop an entire application development stack based on the Model View Controller architecture. In MVC development, Model data and user interface Views are tied together by discrete Controller logic. This is in contrast to typical web development tools that mix logic, data, and presentation together, resulting in code that is messy and difficult to maintain.



As explained on the developer's website, "SproutCore is a framework for building applications in JavaScript with remarkably little amounts of code. It can help you build full 'thick' client applications in the web browser that can create and modify data, often completely independent of your web server, communicating with your server via Ajax only when they need to save or load data. JavaScript applications are faster, easier to use, and a lot easier to write than complicated Ajax-driven applications. When you use a framework like SproutCore to help you, they can also be a lot of fun to write."



SproutCore pushes more of the application into the browser itself, resulting in the "thick client" designation. That enables a more responsive, full featured experience that feels and behaves more like a desktop app because it is actually running on the local computer rather than waiting for responses from a remote server. The capacity to do this is actually quite new; rapid advances in web browsers over the last year have finally made thick client JavaScript applications practical.



Cocoa for the Web



Apple didn't just use SproutCore, it also contributed major performance updates and added lots of new functionality. Apple's contributions have helped make SproutCore the ideal way to build web applications that work like desktop Cocoa apps, as noted in the article Cocoa for Windows + Flash Killer = SproutCore. Both share a lot of the same conventions such as the use of bindings. SproutCore's bindings allow developers to write JavaScript that automatically runs any time a property value changes. Using bindings, very complex applications with highly consistent behavior can be created with very little ?glue? code.



Apple has also been working on the other side of the client equation to improve its own JavaScript engine in Safari. Announced just prior to WWDC, WebKit's new SquirrelFish JavaScript interpreter will dramatically boost the performance of JavaScript applications like those built in SproutCore.



Those two factors combine to make SproutCore the natural heir to the Yellow Box or Cocoa for Windows, which has been bandied about as a possibility ever since Apple moved away from its cross platform Rhapsody strategy to develop Mac OS X ten years ago. Rather than requiring a Cocoa runtime however, users will only need a web browser with JavaScript support, including Safari, Mobile Safari on the iPhone, FireFox, or Internet Explorer 6/7.



Using SproutCore enabled Apple to deliver a new suite of online apps in MobileMe for a cross platform audience. The natural next step will be to expand those offerings to include others, for example, iWork productivity apps. Because SproutCore is offered under the open source MIT license, anyone can use it to develop their own highly responsive web apps. It also seems likely that Apple will at some point invite third parties to deliver MobileMe applications, either included as part of the subscription service, or with their own nominal fee. That would mirror the company's efforts in creating a mobile software market in the Phone Apps Store.



Until then, Apple is focusing MobileMe as a push messaging alternative to Exchange "for the rest of us," while also leveraging push support in iPhone 2.0 and in the upcoming Mac OS X Snow Leopard client apps to deliver an Exchange Server replacement in Snow Leopard Server.



There's more information about SproutCore on its official website. Apple also has more details on the new MobileMe, and SquirrelFish details are on the Webkit project site.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 80
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,427member
    OMG!!!



    This is awesome!
  • Reply 2 of 80
    bommaahbommaah Posts: 9member
  • Reply 3 of 80
    Very exciting!
  • Reply 4 of 80
    albeikalbeik Posts: 6member
    Yah... wonder why. Was looking forward to it...



    Here is the last cached page form google: http://64.233.169.104/search?q=cache...lnk&cd=1&gl=us
  • Reply 5 of 80
    bdkennedy1bdkennedy1 Posts: 1,459member
    Man, Apple is really coming back with a vengeance!
  • Reply 6 of 80
    monstrositymonstrosity Posts: 2,234member
    At last. I have been waiting for this moment for many years. And to those who said it would never happen, I laugh in your face hahahahahahahaa!



    The quicker apple clean up that dirty horrible messy coagulation of internet technologies the better. I pulled out of web development a while back, this might just entice me back.

    A company that actually has a clue in the visionless world of the net could cause some real damage, it's like the mobile industry all over again. Ripe for the pickings!
  • Reply 7 of 80
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,427member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by bommaah View Post


    www.sproutcore.com is down



    And this on Apple's 'Official web site' if you search for 'SpoutCore' ...



    <0 results found for 'SproutCore'>



    SJ is keeping this under wraps a little longer maybe?
  • Reply 8 of 80
    ivladivlad Posts: 742member
    great great great great

  • Reply 9 of 80
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,427member
    This is a head on fight with Adobe and Flash ... Plus think what this means for iPhone ('The next Platform') This is the biggest news out of WWDC by far!
  • Reply 10 of 80
    albeikalbeik Posts: 6member
    I was thinking the same - from the cache it didn't have any mention of Apple or anything linking or related to them. But if they are taking it in as of their own - then you maybe up to something.



    Would like to get my hand on the latest build and play with it ASAP!
  • Reply 11 of 80
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member
    The current .Mac webmail is slower and more annoying than Yahoo Mail, Gmail and even my ISP mail. If it is a sign of things to come then I'll take a simple full page-refresh, link-following website any day.
  • Reply 12 of 80
    lorrelorre Posts: 396member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ascii View Post


    The current .Mac webmail is slower and more annoying than Yahoo Mail, Gmail and even my ISP mail. If it is a sign of things to come then I'll take a simple full page-refresh, link-following website any day.



    Well, Javascript engines need to be optimised. I think things will run pretty smoothly in Safari 4, and if you're a Firefox kinda guy, just pray Gecko will see a Javascript optimisation too
  • Reply 13 of 80
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Lorre View Post


    Well, Javascript engines need to be optimised. I think things will run pretty smoothly in Safari 4, and if you're a Firefox kinda guy, just pray Gecko will see a Javascript optimisation too



    That may help somewhat, but I think the real issue is network latency. The further you are from California, the poorer experience Apple's web apps are.
  • Reply 14 of 80
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Lorre View Post


    Well, Javascript engines need to be optimised. I think things will run pretty smoothly in Safari 4, and if you're a Firefox kinda guy, just pray Gecko will see a Javascript optimisation too



    FF3 has been optimizing JS quite well. You can test the different browsers using SunSpider.
  • Reply 15 of 80
    irelandireland Posts: 17,771member
  • Reply 16 of 80
    vinney57vinney57 Posts: 1,162member
    This is huge.



    http://www.roughlydrafted.com/



    Great article here.
  • Reply 17 of 80
    irelandireland Posts: 17,771member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by vinney57 View Post


    This is huge.



    http://www.roughlydrafted.com/



    Great article here.



    The same guy wrote this article. Don't let the name chance fool you. That right Dan?
  • Reply 18 of 80
    irelandireland Posts: 17,771member
    After Core Animation comes... Core Sprout!
  • Reply 19 of 80
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ascii View Post


    The current .Mac webmail is slower and more annoying than Yahoo Mail, Gmail and even my ISP mail. If it is a sign of things to come then I'll take a simple full page-refresh, link-following website any day.



    and mac.com doesn't even support SSL. I hope me.com rectifies this glaring omission.
  • Reply 20 of 80
    aegisdesignaegisdesign Posts: 2,914member
    sproutcore.com was up this morning - I know as I was deciding to use that or 280North's Objective-J/Cappuchino framework.



    http://ajaxian.com/archives/an-inter...and-cappuccino



    sproutcore.com had a demo of a gallery application that looked and behaved like iPhoto or mobileme's gallery.



    280North have an online presentation package that runs like Keynote - http://280slides.com/



    Excellent stuff from both companies. You'd hope the two would get together though.
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