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Carlos Barberis on Amy Palamountain’s “Making Desktop apps With JavaScript”

Today SilverStripe Senior Developer - Carlos Barberis - shares his thoughts on Amy Palamountain's talk...

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Today SilverStripe Senior Developer - Carlos Barberis - shares his thoughts on Amy Palamountain's talk from the New Zealand PHP Conference.

The second PHP conference was the ideal place to learn about new technologies, the future of PHP and other great new initiatives in the tech industry.

I decided to write about “Making Desktop Apps with JavaScript” by Amy Palamountain since it is the perfect example of a phenomenon that has been on my radar for a while now.

Traditionally, Web Developers have been creating web sites and web applications that run on browsers. New technologies such as JavaScript and HTML5, running on modern browsers, have allowed us to build great responsive and interactive applications that are easy to use, look great and offer huge potential in terms of functionality.

In the last few years, we have seen some great ideas on how to run these awesome web applications outside the browser. In my opinion, this really took over with Phonegap/Cordova, which made it possible to write applications with web technologies that could be wrapped and compiled as iOS and/or Android native applications and be run on mobile devices.

Similarly, we can find projects that enable web developers to use the tools and technologies they are familiar with to build desktop applications. Electron, formerly known as Atom Shell, is a framework (built by Github) that allows you to use HTML5, CSS and JavaScript to build desktop apps that can run on OSX, Linux and Windows.

The Electron project started in January 2013 and was initially developed for the Atom editor, but is now used in a significant number of applications. Slack is the most popular example of all the capabilities an application built with Electron can have.

More on the technical side: Electron is built upon open source technologies, and is based on io.js and Chromium. Applications can silently be updated via Squirrel, so you can keep apps up to date (which is an advantage of web apps). There are tonnes of native modules that allow you to interact with the operation system, which makes the application feels native. These modules are based on Node.js and can be easily installed with NPM. Some cool examples of what you can achieve with native modules are access to the files system, creating OS native menus, access to keyboard configuration and much more.

Some of the most impressive pros of using Electron are:

  • It’s very easy for web developers to start working with it.
  • One base code for multiple operation systems.
  • Better than browser apps, thanks to the native modules you can access OS capabilities.
  • Silently keep users up to date, thanks to Squirrel.
  • Yes, you can use ES6 and Typescript, therefore you can build your application with Angular 1 or 2, ReactJS or any other JS flavour you like.
  • You can debug your applications in the same way you debug your web apps on Chrome.
  • You don’t have to test your app on multiple browsers, yay!!
  • Good documentation.

Some of the cons of using Electron are:

  • Performance: you are not running your app with the native language, so an extra layer is added (think of JVM).
  • Limited access to the OS APIs, but more modules are created every day.

Now go and have a play with it - it’s fun; there is plenty of documentation available and has a keen community behind it.


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Carlos Barberis

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  • This was one of the more interesting talks for me too. I've just started teaching myself those three things, HTML, CSS and JavaScript, so it's pretty cool that I might be able to expand these skills to build desktop apps as well.

    Posted by David Thomsen, 15/09/2015 5:59pm (8 years ago)

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