Big Blue interns bring Sash for Linux to life

The ever-evolving world of Linux just became a little more enticing thanks to Big Blue’s announcement of the availability of source code for a new Linux application development tool.

SashXB for Linux was written by IBM summer interns and allows less-experienced Web developers to write Linux-based software with relative ease. More affectionately known in IBM circles as Sash Weblications, SashXB for Linux is actually a rewrite of Sash for Windows, an open-source project originally produced by IBM engineers. However, students at IBM’s Extreme Blue program in the company’s Advanced Internet Technology Lab at Lotus Development Corp. in Cambridge, Mass., took Sash into the Linux realm by closely following the architecture of Sash for Windows. The Sash technology works with both the KDE and Gnome Linux interfaces.

“Sash makes (developing) easy,” said IBM’s Dave Grossman, the distribution engineer and manager of the Internet Technology Group and Extreme Blue program in New York. “We’re leveraging the skill level needed to write native platforms…we ran Sash on Windows in October 1999 and wanted to make the same paradigm work on Linux.”

The SashXB for Linux open source release includes both the Sash runtime for Linux as well as a full function developer tool for Weblication development called the WDE.

“IBM liked Linux a lot because of its total open source environment,” said A.J. Shankar, a Harvard University student currently submerged in the Extreme Blue program. “We decided to leverage as much of the operating system as we could…Sash for Linux is a quick installation, you no longer have to look at the command line.”

Sash Weblications are HTML Web pages with additional embedded JavaScript programming logic. Sash blends the latest Web technology with the latest features of desktop applications, and no expertise in C++, C, Java, or other lower level programming languages and platform skills is required. Web developers well-versed in JavaScript and DHTML will have an easy time writing simple software with Sash without needing an in-depth knowledge of Visual Basic or other more difficult languages, according to IBM.

Sash uses the Mozilla Gecko HTML layout engine, the Xerces parser and a number of Gnome components as its primitives.

“It’s an excellent tool if it lives up to its promise,” said Web developer Kartik Kumaramangalam for Internet start-up Gurutoolz (Pvt) Ltd. in Bangalore, India. “Conceptually, it’s terrific…however, Sash does have its problems. Right now, it’s a beta release – it doesn’t support a lot of the functionality one would need and the WDK needs a lot of work – but as I said, it is fantastic.”

The Sash software was designed for applications that require a highly-integrated, full-function client experience, strong desktop integration, fast network installation and the option to run off line. In developing Sash Weblications tools, IBM had in mind the developers of intranet enterprise applications; producers of software for sale and rent over the Internet; suppliers of electronic kiosk software; developers of an emerging class of desktop applications that have an increasingly large network or Web-based component; developers of Web-based desktop applications; Internet application providers and those who out-source electronic services using the Web.

“Our audience are at the base of the (development) pyramid, the JavaScript and HTML folks,” Grossman remarked. “We took an abstract special tool kit group (of students) and made the Linux platform an attractive place to be. Sash for Linux is out right now as a developer source project.”

Kris Hansen, a senior applications architect with Intreq Solutions Group Inc. in Edmonton, said Sash has the potential to completely change application development for the desktop.

“I am very impressed with Sash, especially as a new concept in desktop application development…Web applications can take on a whole new look, they can integrate with the desktop at a level only previously enjoyed by traditional desktop applications,” Hansen said. “With the flexibility of the development and the source code for SashXB being released under the LGPL licence, we may see a grass-roots following for this language similar to that of Perl.”

Future renditions of Sash for the Palm and Windows CE operating systems are in the works.