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Sencha's Web-app tools growing up

A start-up hoping to capitalize on the arrival of Web applications is releasing a major update to its tools for building those apps.

Sencha logo

A company at the heart of the Web-app revolution hopes a major update to its programming tools will further the new style of development.

Sencha plans to release Ext JS 4.0 today, bringing new features and some maturity to the software. Ext JS is a software foundation that lets programmers create Web sites that house active applications, not just static pages, that work not just on modern browsers but also on Microsoft's ancient, despised, but still widely used IE6.

Web programming these days is getting steadily more advanced, and indeed Web browsers are becoming more like operating systems with support for hardware acceleration, faster execution of JavaScript programs, and responsibilities for juggling multiple tasks and for isolating software into secure partitions for security and performance reasons.

All these abilities make the browser a more sophisticated vessel for software and a more compelling alternative to software that runs natively on an operating system such as Windows or iOS. But given the fact that there are multiple browsers on the market, writing software to work across all of them is complicated.

This problem is where Sencha aims to help--and profit. Its tools aren't going to be used for creating Web versions of complicated native software such as Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop, but they are becoming more advanced.

"Ext JS is about letting you build rich desktop-class Web apps using JavaScript," said Aditya Bansod, Sencha's senior director of product management and a recent transplant from Adobe Systems. For Ext JS 4.0, "We rebuilt large parts of the framework."

Specifically, the new software is designed to enable a more modular style of programming called MVC (model-view-controller) better suited to larger corporate programming operations. MVC splits projects up into three domains--the user interface, the interaction with systems such as databases, and the control logic that's the brains of the operation. The technique is common at larger companies with different teams for different domains of programming projects.

Another change in Ext JS 4.0 is a move away from Adobe's Flash Player, an all-browser technique for showing graphics. Previously Ext JS required Flash to reach older browsers, but a new drawing engine reaches back even to IE6 without the plug-in.

New technology for drawing charts, tables of text, forms, and other information displays also arrives. Those features, such as pie charts, infinite-scrolling lists, and sliders, are designed to appeal to those with one of Sencha's main use cases, online dashboards that let people monitor and control operations through a browser.

Ext JS 4.0 also is more easily themed, Bansod said, for those who want a consistent, easily changed look spanning multiple browsers. The company's approach mirrors what it used in Sencha Touch, a related framework the company offers for mobile Web programming.

Sencha doesn't have the market to itself, though. In the Web domain, there are tools such as Dojo, Sproutcore, and YUI (Yahoo User Interface) that do much the same thing as Sencha's software. And outside the Web domain, there are of course native tools such as Microsoft's .Net or Apple's Cocoa.

Ext JS, like Sencha's other projects, is open-source software that's also available under a commercial license. The company's customers typically go for the commercial versions, though, which doesn't require them to release their own software as open source under the terms of the GNU General Public License, Bansod said.

Sencha makes its money through three mechanisms: licensing the software, supporting it, and offering training and other services. The business is spread pretty evenly among the three, Bansod said.

The company has more than 50 employees now, but it's planning on filling up its more-spacious new headquarters in Redwood City, Calif.

"We're hiring very rapidly," Bansod said, and the new 10,000-square-foot site will "accommodate a lot of growth in the next year."