Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

eCalc: Cross-platform Calculator with Ajax

Category: Examples

For a while, we’ve been giving a lot of thought to how Ajax developers can leverage their skills to play in the ISV marketplace. This conversation has gained a bit of heat over the past few months with the launch of Apple’s iPhone Marketplace–the fastest-growing ISV marketplace in software history.

We’ve talked about platforms like Adobe AIR, Appcelerator Titanium, Mozilla Prism, PhoneGap, and others that let Ajax developers package up web applications (in some cases with augmented platform APIs) and distribute them like desktop apps. In this story, we thought it would be interesting to take a quick look at an ISV actually leveraging this concept.

eCalc has created a comprehensive on-line calculator which they make available for free. In addition, they have Mac and Windows versions available for $15 each that take the Web code and run it on the desktop. All three versions are pretty much exactly the same codebase, just bundled differently. Interestingly, for Windows eCalc uses an AIR-like platform I’d never heard of before: MioFactory (which comes complete with its own scripting language and interpreter to complete Ajax / Flash content). On the Mac, they just use the Dashboard APIs. (Not sure why they don’t use Yahoo Widgets, Adobe AIR, etc.)

What do you think of Ajax as a desktop / mobile application development platform? Are you an ISV using Ajax for your commercial applications? Why have you had to do some development in desktop platforms lately?

Posted by Ben Galbraith at 4:48 pm

3 rating from 31 votes


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While platforms like Air and Prism are both innovative and useful the only niche they fill is on the development side of things. To the end-user an application running on one of these special platforms is no different than what they’re used to. How can we expect real consumers to download and install these platforms, where’s the real benefit?

It seems these platforms were born out of a lack of knowledge – one which created a gap in the market. Web developers are not software engineers – these platforms give us the “power” to pretend we are – so what I’m trying to say is that things like Adobe Air are only made to cater to a lack of knowledge or rather a technological divide between web developers and software engineers!

Every time a new framework or platform is used, you unknowingly build up a massive stack of abstractions, each one more likely to break as the one below! In an ideal world these platforms wouldn’t need to exist because we’d all know how to create apps from scratch, but we don’t – that’s what I mean when I see “lack of knowledge”.

Comment by JimmyP22 — February 11, 2009

I’m using Adobe AIR for an app. I chose it because it’s cross platform and people often find web interfaces more familiar than desktop UIs nowadays. This was a deliberate choice, and I love it. And yes, I’ve shipped many commercial apps on a variety of systems, so I don’t buy the “web developers and not software engineers” line. Some are, some aren’t.

I also use AIR for some in-house tools that would have otherwise been command-line driven.

Comment by Nosredna — February 11, 2009

Here’s my current favorite online calculator:

It’s in JavaScript, so it should be easy to throw into Adobe AIR or PhoneGap.

Comment by Nosredna — February 11, 2009

@Nosredna, obviously I wasn’t referring to all web developers. Plus what do you mean about the two different UIs? Most web apps are borrowing quite heavily from the traditional desktop UI. I am just trying to figure out why things like Air were created, for us, or for the consumers?

Comment by JimmyP22 — February 11, 2009

I wrote a blog about this exact same concept a couple of months ago called; Ra-Ajax the backdoor into Apple’s AppStore which can be found at;
I think that it should be natural for an Ajax Framework to support both Desktop and iPhone (and also other mobile browsers) completely seamlessly and that to even *talk* about “porting an Ajax app to iPhone” sounds weird in my vocabulary, but then again I’m a Standard Fundamentalist working with an Ajax Framework that only delivers 8.1KB of JavaScript to the client, so I guess it’s far easier for us then it is for the “rest”… ;)

Comment by ThomasHansen — February 11, 2009

@JimmyP22 – I think you missed the mark with your analysis. the decision to use Air or some other x-platform framework is not so much about “lack of knowledge” as it is about “lack of time”. If you have a requirement to ship on as many platforms as possible, than it absolutely makes sense to find a framework that abstracts out as many of the platform-specific oddities as possible, regardless of what you’re level of expertise/knowledge may be.

Sure, one side benefit of this is that it makes more platforms accessible to people who are not as well versed in the peculiarities of, say, native Windows programming, but surely that can only be regarded as a good thing, right?

Comment by broofa — February 11, 2009

>>Most web apps are borrowing quite heavily from the traditional desktop UI.
I see web apps as being easier to use than desktop apps. I know a bunch of people who are using web apps who in the past avoided computers. If anything, I think desktop apps are borrowing from web apps now more than the other way around.
Web apps are single click-driven. They are often simpler, and feature more images.

Comment by Nosredna — February 11, 2009

I’m developing a calendar with agenda, list of contact, jobs, todos and a lot of similar things for a company. I’m creating service and a a web based UI, and some service is JSONP and I expose my API. After I developed an AIR interface, to reuse some online service and in this way I can give to users the possibility to work offline on their computer and to syncronize with others online. AIR give me this power to make it easy and faster. I’m a JEE developer but I preferred this solution for that project and I see suddenly the benefit of that choice. Now that agency had yet a solution that they can integrate and sell very quickly. sorry for my english…

Comment by nunziofiore — February 12, 2009

Hmm, I’m finding this project a little tough to swallow, sure, porting a popular and useful app to the web, but spending all that time and effort then porting it BACK to the desktop? And $15 for the privilege? I’ll stick with Google or the calculator I have.

Comment by oopstudios — February 12, 2009

i’m 4 freedom too

Comment by nunziofiore — February 12, 2009

freecode, not freedom (but it’s the same ;) )

Comment by nunziofiore — February 12, 2009


Very neat and cute! Also very foreign to the average user, though. It’s vintage, it’s retro, but I wouldn’t ever argue that that particular calculator UI is the most user friendly / intuitive. Anyway, don’t want to knock it too much, because I really do like it a lot for its style.

I threw together a basic / conventional calculator for UIZE a few days back. In Chrome or Safari you get the quasi-neon / LCD glow on the display characters…

Comment by uize — October 25, 2009

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