Slingshot tool takes aim at Adobe's Apollo

The race to provide Web developers with a tool to bring some rich Internet features to the desktop continued Friday with the unveiling of Joyent Inc.'s Slingshot framework for building online and offline Ruby on Rails applications.

The announcement comes just days after Adobe Systems Inc. released the first public alpha version of Apollo, its cross-operating system application runtime designed to help developers to build rich Internet applications for desktop systems.

Joyent CEO David Young describes Slingshot as a lightweight and customizable framework that will allow Rails applications to run offline with simple and transparent data synchronization. Ruby on Rails is a Web application framework for developers to build Web applications using Ruby, an object-oriented programming language

"It [Slingshot] breaks down the wall between a Web application and a desktop application without losing what makes a Web application great: the ability to rapidly develop, deploy [and] update," Young noted on his blog. "The framework provides an extensible drag and drop abstraction layer. Hook into an application's existing data import/export mechanisms without necessarily modifying any application code."

Slingshot, which the company plans to have available for general release on both Windows and Macintosh operating systems in late April, also allows a developer to easily deploy code updates and migrations, no matter how long a user has been offline, Young added.

In addition to Adobe and Joyent, Microsoft Corp. Laszlo Systems Inc. also offers tools for taking rich Internet applications to the desktop. Microsoft's Windows Presentation Foundation is included in the Vista operating system's .Net Framework 3.0, and Laszlo offers the Webtop tool for such tasks.

Jeffrey Hammond, an analyst with Forrester Research, said the new category of development tools represents a "snap back" from the rich Internet application trend of late back to the desktop. "There are times when I am disconnected from the Web and wouldn't it be great if I could take some of this information [from the Web] and do productive work," he said.

This new breed of tools aiming at building applications that can run online and offline must be attractive both to Web developers and enterprise IT developers who built many of the business applications in the 1980s and early 1990s that enterprises now are seeking to move to the Web, he added.

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