OSCon: SiteMesh, SiteMesh, SiteMesh, SiteMesh

Just got back from the O’Reilly Open Source Convention in Portland. Fantastic conference – met lots of really interesting people (and the odd nutter).

It was a good conference for SiteMesh. It opened my eyes to two things:

# SiteMesh rocks. People who have tried SiteMesh, love it and don’t turn back. Their preferred choice for web framework changes, but SiteMesh remains constant.
# Our marketing sucks. Despite it being around for 5 years, most of the Java web app community have never felt the need to try it.

I was there to present a session on SiteMesh but a lot of other speakers beat me to it. It kept slipping into other sessions…

h4. Using AppFuse for Test driven Web Development, Matt Raible (details)

Matt gave an overview of the technology stack used in his AppFuse application. Despite having 5 versions of his app that use different frameworks (Struts, WebWork, Tapestry, Spring MVC and JavaServer Faces), all used SiteMesh. Good!

h4. Integrate: Building a Site from Open Source Gems, Erik Hatcher (details)

Erik walked us through the open source products he used to build his Lucene Book website and what customizations he made. The focus, of course, was Lucene and I learned a lot of great tricks about Lucene that hadn’t occurred to me before – such as using “sounds like” queries with soundex and indexing images by colors. I continue to love Lucene.

A great point that Erik mentioned was the need to become intimate with the projects you use. If you truely want to make the most of your frameworks, understand how they work, join the community and extend them.

Erik chose Tapestry to build the site but he also had Blojsom and some static content, so SiteMesh was useful to integrate these and he created some custom code to build SiteMesh decorators with Tapestry.

He pointed out that despite submitting this useful Tapestry integration to the SiteMesh project, nothing had made it into the SiteMesh release. Feeling embarressed, I committed his changes immediately, inadvertently breaking the build and providing great ammunition for Eric Pugh’s session on the importance of continuous integration.

h4. WebWork vs Spring MVC Smackdown, Matthew Porter and Matt Raible (details)

The basic plot was this… Matthew Porter was arguing why Spring MVC sucks and WebWork rocks. Matt Raible was arguing why Spring MVC rocks and WebWork sucks. The only thing they both agreed on was SiteMesh rocked. A fairly heated and passionate debate – great fun to watch. I would have opted for more violence though.

Matthew Porter got the final laugh when he pointed out that he compared the Spring MVC and WebWork versions of Matt Raible’s AppFuse framework and the Spring MVC version had about 25% (I think) more code, not including comments.

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h4. The Evolution of Web Application Architectures, Craig McClanahan (details)

This was an interesting session where Craig compared the approaches taken by Struts, WebWork, Spring MVC, Tapestry and JavaServer Faces. He had done detailed research and, despite his heavy involvement with Struts and JSF, gave a very fair and objective view of the pros and cons of each.

This work could be useful for people evaluating which frameworks to choose and possibly could be overlayed with a guide based on values. The bottom line is there’s no single ‘ultimate’ web framework and depending on your needs and values you should choose the most suitable. I think it would be beneficial to all to have a guide indicating which values each of these frameworks are suited/not-suited for.

So, my question is this: Which values are more important to you when choosing a web framework and in which priority?

These are some example values that spring to mind: commercial support, testability (unit and functional), popularity, extensibility/customization, integration with other frameworks, rich widget support, REST friendlyness, simplicity vs magicness, AJAX friendlyness, learning curve, configuration, etc.

Anyhoo, SiteMesh was probably mentioned enough times to attract another load of people to the SiteMesh session.


I’m really glad these people mentioned SiteMesh and said such kind words about it – it resulted in a lot of interest and a full house for the SiteMesh session. I hope to get these presentations online shortly and write a bit more about how Subversion, Microsoft Word and SiteMesh can be combined to create a rich Content Management System.

h2. Improving SiteMesh’s marketing

The fact still remains that SiteMesh has terrible marketing. I’d love some ideas of how to spread the word more and encourage more people to try it but I honestly have no idea what to do. Any suggestions?

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  • Comments (10)
    • Mathias Bogaert
    • August 8th, 2005

    More frequent releases and publishing the announcements everywhere possible. Better example application. A ‘user quotes’ page.

    • Joseph Ottinger
    • August 8th, 2005

    Yes, frequent and stable releases would be good. Tell TSS about it!

    • Anonymous coward
    • August 8th, 2005

    The Sitemesh web pages could really use some freshening up. Not to strain the link to Rails, but compare it to rubyonrails.com!

    • ade
    • August 8th, 2005

    Or even take a look at XStream. Where’s the 2 minute tutorial? Where’s the flashy video showing you whipping up an enterprise web app in minutes?

    Talk to people building webapps, find out what they’re doing and show them how much easier/faster/better/etc it would have been with sitemesh. Show me the business value!

  1. IMO, the best thing you can for SiteMesh is to keep developing it. Add new features, blog about it. Fix bugs, blog about it. Integrate it with JSF and Tapestry, then blog about it. Create videos and /show/ us how easy it is.

    It was great to meet you at OSCON Joe – even if I did have to hear about your former supervisor.

    • Craig McClanahan
    • August 9th, 2005

    I was one of those that enjoyed your session on SiteMesh as well … sometimes the personal tour is the best approach of all. I’ve talked about Struts and JSF at so many conferences I start feeling like a politician giving a stump speech, but sometimes that is what it takes.

    Keep on doing what you’re doing … SiteMesh looks like a good solution for people who want to add decoration “after the fact” and/or merge output from multiple underlying technologies non-invasively.

    Now if we (all, the entire Java web tier) can figure out how to do stuff like this for portlet (JSR-168) based environments as well …

  2. We use sitemesh on a couple of our projects and it works very neatly.

    As said before, blogging about the changes you make is always good. How about a library of sites using sitemesh (similar to Swing sightings for example). It’s fine to tell people how it works, and how great it is, IMHO it’s always good to see what is possible.

    I’d also spend time on a worked example, as said above either in a video, or even as a deployable app… there is a great one on Tapestry Tables here: http://weblogs.java.net/blog/johnreynolds/archive/2004/10/learn_by_teachi_1.html

    Plus I know it sits completely on top of other web frameworks, but perhaps you need to point this out a little more clearly.

    Also bury the flow diagram deeper in the documentation (not to be too critical but…), a) it’s really ugly, b) it makes sitemesh look more complicated than it really is!

    Any thoughts on how / if sitemesh is able to help people writing AJAX (yuck) apps too? I’ve heard they’re all the rage these days? e.g. could you put all your common javascript libraries into a decorator?

    • analogueboy
    • August 9th, 2005

    perhaps you could use the slides from OSCon as a demo on the sitemesh site? i think people link real-world examples. the 2 minute-tutorial is also good. Mike’s slides from TSSS last year really helped me to learn Sitemesh, I’m not sure about releasing them to the public tho…

  3. For a start, you could blog more about SiteMesh, tips and tricks, real world usages, gotchas. Google will do the rest ;-)

    • Anonymous
    • December 9th, 2005

    You need to add features that are attractive to the IT decision makers in enterprise organisations.

    Release an Enterprise version that is priced at several thousand dollars per developer seat, has terrible documentation, comes with no source code, requires more CPU and memory, is less reliable and has a restrictive runtime license — per CPU runtime licensing is good especially if you’re vague about hyperthreading.

    Oh, and make the APIs more complicated than the Open Source version. IT decision makers prefer products with poor APIs.

    If people still won’t buy it, try to sell the Enterprise version to a big company like Oracle or IBM.

    Or learn to play golf.

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