Wednesday, May 27, 2009


On cloud computing nine. Well, maybe three.

I've finished the bare-bones functionality of the Android app I'm working on, and have gone back to the AppEngine middleware. The purpose of the app, in case you're curious, is to make it easy to update WikiTravel from your phone, complete with location data and/or a picture.

AppEngine is remarkably easy to work with. And as my friend Martin pointed out, it's now available in both Java and Python (although the Java is still in "Early Look" status.) I'm working in Python for the sake of variety, and also because the advantages of Java in this context are not immediately obvious.

Anyway, I don't have as much Python experience as Java, but that hardly matters, because it's all very straightforward. I'm having a permissions problem getting the location of an IFrame, which means I may have to make things a little more annoying for the user than I'd like, but that's an XSS browser-security issue not a development issue.

The basics of a web application - getting data from the database and request, displaying it to the page, and saving it as and when needed - are all perfectly straightforward; so much so that I'm not even going to bother posting any code here, for once, because none of it seems particularly interesting. Which is a good thing. It means can focus on what you want to do, unlike the bad old days, where you spent a hefty fraction of your time worrying about how you're going to do it.

(I'm sure I'll hit such a wall at some point, and fear not, when I do I will whine about it at logorrheic length.)

AppEngine also gives you lots of freebies. Sending emails easily, for once. Scalability and data integrity, for two. Goodbye, J2EE deployment descriptors; that heavy lifting now happens pretty much behind the scenes, although you do have to group objects affected by single database transactions together in advance.

You also get automatic seamless user handling, so long as you use Google Accounts as your userbase. Caveat; it's easy to link to a login page, but I haven't quite worked out how to integrate a login form into your own pages. Even so, this is pretty brilliant. It means your site comes with all the user headaches - login, logout, password reminder, sending them emails, etc. - pre-handled, saving you time and grief. It also means that if you use it, which I am for the sake of convenience, you lock yourself even further into Google's infrastructure, and expand the tentacular remit of Google Accounts. Good thing they're not evil, eh?

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