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Free Linux browser libraries boost widgets

Nov 10, 2008 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 1 views

Movial has released Webkit and Gecko extensions that give local Javascript/HTML widgets more power over the systems they run on. Targeting user interface elements on Linux devices, the LGPL-licensed Browser D-Bus Bridge lets locally stored Javascript “easily” use operating system services like media and instant messaging engines, Movial says.

Movial announced D-Bus Bridge at LinuxWorld in August, and has now completed an intial release under the LGPL license. The technology has also been made available to LiMo members under that Foundation's licensing model. However, an earlier emphasis on Google's Android phone stack appears to have gone by the wayside.

Movial hopes its D-Bus Bridge will enable web “widget” technology to be used not only for lightweight apps such as calculators and clocks, but for “main” system applications. Suggested uses include:

  • Add browser-based UIs to the LiMO stack
  • Allow widgets to “easily” initiate media engines and instant messaging engines
  • Create a UI to NetworkManager
  • Create a browser extension to send URLs to a music player via its D-Bus API
  • Create “on-device mashups” that deliver Internet services

In a nutshell, the D-Bus Bridge comprises add-ons to the Webkit and Gecko rendering engines. The add-ons provide a Javascript API aimed at letting privileged JavaScript code (where privileged appears to mean “local”) make calls that are then translated into D-Bus calls. The D-Bus calls can access session and, where allowed, system level functions.

D-Bus was developed by The open source, Linux/Unix-based inter-process communication (IPC) technology links applications with services such as those offered by printers or CD-ROMs. In the mobile world, D-Bus been made part of the LiMo Platform spec, as well as OpenMoko's next-generation FSO framework initiative for its Neo FreeRunner phone. It has also been integrated at the platform level by several Linux stacks that borrow heavily from desktop software, including Nokia's Maemo stack and Intel's Moblin stack.

Tomi Rauste, president of Movial's “Creative Technologies” arm, commented, “[D-Bus Bridge will] spur the development of rich, custom UIs for mobile Linux without requiring the sophisticated skill set of a Linux UI developer and countless hours of coding.”

Rauste mini-interview

In a brief interview with LinuxDevices, Rauste acknowledged that D-Bus Bridge faces competition from heavyweights like Qt Software (formerly Trolltech), which was purchased this year by Nokia. Qt Software's president, Sebastian Nystrom, told LinuxDevices that Nokia first saw the value of Qt after seeing how its webkit integration enabled the delivery of Internet-based services and Web-based user interface elements, in applications such as Real's Rhapsody player and Roku's Netflix appliance. While Rauste could not name any similarly high-profile design-in wins for D-Bus Bridge, he said that the technology has a lower barrier to entry, compared to Qt. “Qt developers still need some specific [software development] skills. Our idea is to use only common Web technologies that have been used for over 10 years now,” referring to HTML, Javascript, and CSS.

D-Bus Bridge's popularity could of course hinge on how widely embedded and mobile application developers embrace D-Bus — traditionally a desktop technology — and how many mobile applications are written or modified to include D-Bus hooks. So far, D-Bus appears to be doing pretty well on devices, with platform-level adoption by those device software stacks that borrow heavily from desktop software. Yet, it remains up to individual application developers whether to take advantage of the D-Bus APIs. Rauste commented, “Our highest priority is to push this idea that [mobile] applications should have this API to the UI layer.”

Helsinki-based Movial keeps sales offices in Palo Alto, Calif., Shanghai, China, and Hong Kong. It employs 120, of which about half work on the “Social Communicator,” an IMS client for desktop and mobile operating systems. The other half comprise the Creative Technologies team that Rauste heads up. Its primary product is the IXS stack for phones and other mobile devices. Rauste said his team includes 10 user interface design experts, in addition to 40 engineers.

Movial is widely known for having helped Nokia develop the Maemo software stack used in its Linux-based web tablets. Another company that did so, OpenedHand, was recently acquired by Intel. Asked who would acquire Movial, Rauste replied, “At the moment, we're seeing our own path. The market is blooming as Linux comes to the mobile device world, and we see huge opportunities.”

More details about the D-Bus Bridge, including download links to git repo's, can be found here.

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