Analysis: Sun's Lively Kernel Threatens HTML, CSS Dominance

The team leader is Dan Ingalls, who was the co-inventor of Smalltalk and Squeak languages. Lively is similar to Squeak in the way it manipulate objects. Since Squeak has never been all that popular, there's certainly the chance that Lively will not take off either. Among many things, to achieve general adoption the team needs to develop a layer of code that separates the OS and the components built on top of the Lively Kernel. This way, code written in Lively can be transfer between OSes and browsers.

With Lively, the rendering effects of CSS is all done by JavaScript widgets that use the SVG library. At about 10K lines of code, Lively Kernel is simple to program and quick to load on a browser. Since it runs on JavaScript, new versions of the kernel never need to be installed.

Lively uses simple effects to manage the behavior of SVG objects. By highlighting surfaces around an image or an animation, the Sun team built a set of behaviors that are transferable to new objects or copies of original objects. In the Lively paradigm, links between pages behave like passing through portals. The link effect is more in line with moving between desktops on an OS than with opening new HTML pages. Programmers will find it more aligned with desktop programming.

In addition to SVG, the Lively library extends the graphics engine that browsers use. The team built simple MVC style widgets to help developers understand how to add behaviors to objects. To reproduce CSS effects, the Sun group developed a hierarchical structure between components that inherit properties. Developers can create themes that affect all of the controls that are running.

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Lively isn't going to replace Flash or Silverlight any time soon. Because the engine runs in JavaScript and uses SVG, the graphics are slow. However, the programming model is simple and highly portable. The team is working on the slow rendering. At this time, development is still in the early stages but the group has been able to build debugging components for developers.

Like all portable code, JavaScript is hacker friendly, so Lively inherits all of its flaws. The Sun team is promoting a Google project that is working to secure JavaScript communication.

To find out more about the Lively Kernel go to