InfiView 1.0: An AJAX graphics work in progress

Bindows-based platform offers powerful interactive capabilities to developers who can master its quirks

Two products emerged from MB Technologies in May: Version 3.0 of Bindows, MB's AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) toolkit, and InfiView 1.0, a software platform for developing interactive, dynamic graphical maps and diagrams for the Web. Their commonalities don't end at their release date: InfiView is based on Bindows and thus shares both its strengths and its weaknesses.

Like Bindows -- which Test Center contributor Peter Wayner reviewed last November -- InfiView uses an XML-based markup language with embedded JavaScript that's normally launched from an HTML page. In spirit, this markup language is similar to Microsoft's XAML (Extensible Application Markup Language); it lacks, however, the same level of design and development tool support.

Bindows 3.0 includes unified vector graphics support, producing either SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) or VML (Vector Markup Language) depending on the browser; it also adds charts and gauges. InfiView builds on that foundation with a JavaScript class library that implements viewports, edges, nodes, events, actions, tools, automatic node layouts, and viewport navigators. You can embed any Bindows component in an InfiView application.

InfiView comes with a wizard that can produce the basic shell of a whole family of Web design applications. If you want to develop a Web page that can be used to design networks or organization charts, the InfiView wizard can give you a credible starting point in a matter of minutes. Adding actions and extending the application is harder and more time-consuming, as you're basically editing XML and JavaScript using generic tools, supported by minimal documentation.

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If your application doesn't fit the designer paradigm of an InfiView wizard page, your hope would be that InfiView's developers have supplied something similar as a demo application, which you can copy and modify. Several demos are available on the InfiView site and in the SDK. InfiView has some built-in support for the Google Maps API, but sadly, two demos and a short white paper are currently the only documentation for this.

My biggest difficulty with InfiView came from the relatively immature documentation. I don't mind browsing a class hierarchy, but I would really like an overview of the architecture and a structured introduction to using the classes. I'd also like to see a lot more samples, and better documented ones, at that.

My second biggest difficulty with InfiView came from the lack of tools. I do have several XML editors that I was able to use on InfiView XML files, but I felt "alone and afraid in a world I never made" trying to work with unfamiliar XML tags, namespaces, and JavaScript classes. I found myself yearning for the familiar comforts of Visual Studio or Eclipse and wishing for tag and code completion, not to mention context-sensitive help.

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MB Technologies has worked with JetBrains to provide a Bindows add-on for IntelliJ IDEA. As far as I can tell, IntelliJ IDEA doesn't yet recognize any of the InfiView tags or classes.

I found one bug in my testing: Internet Explorer 7 seems to be incompatible with the JavaScript that launches InfiView 3.0 applications from file URLs, unless you disable native XMLHTTP support. InfiView does work properly with IE 7 HTTP URLs and with Netscape using either kind of URL. I would expect MB Technologies to have a fix for this fairly quickly, as we diagnosed the problem early in my review cycle.

InfiView competes directly with Microsoft Silverlight, Adobe Flex, and Curl. There are other ways to create RIA (rich Internet application) graphics, based on ASP.Net, Ruby on Rails, and Java EE (Enterprise Edition) with AJAX and graphics extensions.

I would strongly encourage developers who are interested in InfiView to browse through its Web site, play with the demos, and view the screencasts. If it's still of interest, you can arrange for an evaluation of the InfiView Developer's Kit; if that passes muster, you can buy a development license for $195 per developer. Deploying InfiView can be free if you're using it on a free Web site, $5,000 per server per year under an Enterprise license, or $25 per user per year under an SOA/SaaS (software as a service) license.

InfiView could be a strong option for producing interactive Web graphics applications for some shops, especially those already familiar with Bindows. Developers who want to work in a more conventional programming language with better development tools might want to consider other options, such as Silverlight or Curl.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Ease of development (30.0%)
Performance (15.0%)
Documentation (15.0%)
Capability (30.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
MB Technologies InfiView 1.0 6.0 9.0 7.0 8.0 8.0 7.4
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