Technical Reports

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UBC CS TR-90-21 Summary

Automating the Generation of Interactive Applications, January 1990 Emanuel G. Noik

As user interfaces become more powerful and easier to use they are often harder to design and implement. This has caused a great demand for interface tools. While existing tools ease interface creation, they typically do not provide mechanisms to simplify application development and are too low-level. Furthermore, existing tools do not provide effective mechanisms to port interactive applications across user interfaces. While some tools provide limited mechanisms to port applications across user interfaces which belong to the same class (e.g., the class of all standard graphical direct-manipulation user interfaces), very few can provide the ability to port applications across different interface classes (e.g., command-line, hypermedia, speech recognition and voice synthesis, virtual reality, etc.). \n With my approach, the programmer uses an abstract model to describe the structure of the application including the information that the application must exchange with the user, rather than describing a user interface which realizes these characteristics. By specifying application semantics at a very high level of abstraction it is possible to obtain a much greater separation between the application and the user interface. Consequently, the resulting applications can be ported not only across user interfaces which belong to a common interface class, but across interfaces which belong to distinct classes. This can be realized through simple recompilation --- source code does not have to be modified. \n NAAG (Not Another Application Generator), a tool which embodies these ideas, enables programmers to create interactive applications with minimal effort. An application is modelled as a set of operations which manipulate objects belonging to user-defined object classes. The input to NAAG is a source program which describes classes, operations and their inputs and outputs, and the organization of operations within the application. Classes and operations are implemented as data structures and functions in a conventional programming language such as C. This model simplifies not only the specification and generation of the user interface, but the design and implementation of the underlying application. \n NAAG utilizes existing technology such as macro-preprocessors, compilers, make programs, and low-level interface tools, to reduce the programming task. An application that is modified by adding, removing, or reorganizing artifacts (classes, operations, and menus), can be regenerated with a single command. Traditionally, software maintenance has been a very difficult task as well. Due to the use of a simple abstract model, NAAG applications are also easier to maintain. Furthermore, this approach encourages software reuse: applications consisting of arbitrary collections of original and pre-existing artifacts can be composed easily; functions which implement abstract operations are independent of both, user interface aspects, and the context in which they are employed. \n Application development is further simplified in the following ways: the programmer describes the semantics of the user interface --- a conventional explicit specification is not required; output primitives are defined in an interface-independent manner; many programming tasks such as resource management, event processing, and communication, are either handled directly by the tool or else simplified greatly for the programmer. \n NAAG is currently used by the members of the Laboratory for Computational Vision at the University of British Columbia to maintain a sophisticated image processing system.


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