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Arjan Widlak

User: kristi
Date: 6/2/2009 8:22 am
Views: 5682
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The Essentials

Name: Arjan Widlak
Username: arjan
Age: 35
Profession/Employer: CEO United Knowledge
Place of Residence: Amsterdam, the Netherland

WebGUI Related Questions

In what way(s) do you contribute to WebGUI or the WebGUI Community?
WebGUI is important to United Knowledge, our company. Therefore, I encourage people to contribute to the standard distribution of WebGUI during their work. If we take solutions we've used in specific implementations, and generalize them to make them part of the standard distribution, two benefits emerge: it's good for WebGUI and it makes our lives easier. We do the same with contractors. We always hire them for a specific project, but give them the time to generalize the work as well, so it can be contributed to WebGUI's core. I've started and funded an organization of WebGUI users in the Netherlands with a few other companies, like Pluton, Procolix and Oqapi, that tries to engage people in WebGUI. We started the WebGUI drinks, which are informal meetings around WebGUI.

So, in code I don't contribute much more than the occasional bugfix, but there are quite a few features that WebGUI would lack without United Knowledge. I hope the outcome of all that improves the usability of WebGUI, its standards compliance, and makes it easier for the designer to use WebGUI.

When did you first hear of WebGUI?
I don't really remember. Somewhere early in WebGUI 5 I guess.

How and when did you get involved in WebGUI?
We did a lot of CGI programming and decided that we needed to work towards a framework. One of our programmers had already made his own templating system when we decided to look around a bit more. Then we tested several systems, all based on PERL, and chose WebGUI.

Are you paid to work on WebGUI?
That's a question of perspective I guess. We get paid to implement WebGUI, but of course that only works in the long run if WebGUI develops. There are more demands to the quality of our work in terms of accessibility, usability and standards compliance every year. Therefore, I see it as an investment to work on WebGUI.

How much time do you spend on WebGUI?
Less than I would like to, but quite a lot of time. On development only I guess we have several external programmers working for at least a few months a year, and that amount is at least matched by people in our own organization.

What do you think is still missing from WebGUI or the WebGUI Community?

The take-off of broad adoption is yet to come. A relatively small band of smart guys is making this brilliant system. For those who know WebGUI, it's clear that it's superior in many ways to every other system I've encountered so far. But by far not enough people know this, yet. The reasons for that are often discussed. There's a steep learning curve for programmers. Some designers find it hard to keep up with the fast development. But what *the* factor is, I don't know.

Of course, in a few years, there will be a shake out, after which WebGUI is *the* dominant system. Then we will look upon these days as the old days, where people didn't know yet. And we were there and knew all along.

What keeps you motivated to keep working on WebGUI?

To be honest, I'm not always motivated. Because not every contribution is always welcomed. Rationally, I understand that's a good thing. It's a good thing that you have to work and plead to get something in the core. Because of its incremental development, consistency is perhaps the goal that is most difficult to reach in open source projects. It's a good thing that there are priorities, even if they're not always mine. But on a personal level.... sometimes you know. But I always regain my motivation because I see the development. Everything is getting better. I think the community is much more accessible than it was. Criteria for contributions are more explicit. The features keep up with almost every development on the web at large. WebGUI empowers us: as a small company we can always deliver state of the art sites.

What's WebGUI's killer feature and why?
Its flexibility no doubt. Its flexibility is the blessing – and perhaps also the curse – of WebGUI. Almost everything is pluggable. Almost everything can be switched on and off and there's always more than one way to do it. It's very rare that we cannot comply with a client's wishes.

What's WebGUI's greatest weakness and why?

A weakness is only a weakness in comparison to other systems. In comparison, I don't think WebGUI has that many weaknesses. But of course there are things that could be better. In general the main one is more consideration for users, mainly the designer. I don't know if you should call it technology driven development, but that's what it's often called. It's a weakness WebGUI shares with many, many (open source) systems. I hate to make the comparison with Apple, because everybody does, but that's exactly it. A Mac offers you a single, intuitive way to work, without closing the road to alternatives. Under the hood, there are many other possibilities. And if you know how to access those parts, you have the knowledge to operate them. In its development, WebGUI needs more of a shared, well communicated and consequently applied vision on where we go and how to get there. We could learn a lot from the Debian community, I think. The development of WebGUI is often more driven by technical possibilities than by a consequently applied perspective on the content manager and the designer, or a perspective on the role software plays in society. Personally, I have a great need to know where WebGUI is going. What's good and what is not. Where is the forms system going, for example. JT's blog entries on “what's next” help, but it doesn't fulfill my need.

What makes you work on WebGUI over the competition?

Last year in Berlin I met a Plone developer, who told me how great he thought KSS was (KSS is Plone's AJAX framework). He showed me how nicely the interface downgraded. That made me jealous for a moment. It happens, sometimes, that you see something in another system that is or seems to be better. But not often. In many ways WebGUI has no real competition. I very rarely, almost never, see sites around that combine the high demands on features, on the one hand, and the strict standards compliance on the other, like the sites we build. We work mostly for governments, who on the one hand are very user driven in the sense that they demand a high level of standards compliance (, and on the other hand are technology driven in the sense they go along with every fashion on the web. Wiki? We want that! Community? We want that! Web 2.0, AJAX? We want that. That means please comply completely with the accessibility criteria, while creating AJAX. That means working really on the edge of what's possible. We can do that with WebGUI. And I see it nowhere else but on sites that everybody knows by name.

What's your most brilliant WebGUI hack?
I have that sensation of a brilliant hack all too often. But a great hack – in the positive sense of the word – that doesn't need to be replaced by a better way of working was this one - – too bad the credits are actually for Joeri. I only asked the question. Happens a lot. But hey, the people asking the questions that are ready for a brilliant answer are needed desperately by all those brilliant programmers.

Have you attended the WebGUI User's Conference?

All but one. See you next time.

Where do you keep your Gooey doll?

There're Gooey dolls everywhere in our office and in my house. When all my clothes are purple, some Gooey found its way into the washing machine. Whenever a child is born, I hand out a Gooey doll. You can't start early enough. (Gooeys are safe for young children, right?)

Personal Questions

How would you describe yourself?
Well, in this context, in this community, perhaps as a pain in the ass. I work in a very specific context, with designers that want to be able to do everything in an easy way, and a government with a strict quality policy, and that's what I communicate. But it's not just because that's what is asked of me. I believe we have to consider the role software plays in our societies. Software often dictates stronger what actually happens than a law. Software more and more dictates what's possible and what is not, how well privacy is protected, whether standards have a chance to improve interoperability or not and so on. That's where we take part in shaping this society. And professionally that's an important part of how I describe myself: what can I do, in my position, to improve the world we live in. Great visions are as valuable as what they accomplish for real people in our times. (going down to earth now)

Are you married, dating, or otherwise involved?
Although some people say that you can't know me for very long or you have a contract of some sort with me, I'm not married.

Do you have any kids?

No, it seems quite terrifying to encounter a very small version of me. I fear him or her already.

Do you have any pets?
No, but I do grow strawberries on my balcony. Does that count?

If someone visits your area, what's something they must see or do?

Perhaps visit our office. It's a beautiful studio in the garden of a typical 17th century warehouse building at one of the canals in the old city center of Amsterdam. Do visit Amsterdam, it's the most beautiful city in the world. It has an old city center that's completely alive. I really love the place where I live, because of its beauty.

What do you hate?

Not so many things. I try to look at the things I hate with mild bemusement. Even people that use IE 6.

What do you love?

Oh, so many things, I could live forever. But one of the things I love is geek-humor, especially in comics like “User Friendly.” Things like this:

What's the last book you read?
Translated the title reads: Nietzsche and Kant read the paper. A bundled series of columns of Rob Wijnberg. Every column takes a philosophical viewpoint as a perspective on some recent news event. It gives you the the ultimate back-cover knowledge.

What's the last CD/MP3 you bought (or downloaded)?

Larry Carlton, Live in Tokyo.

What's the last movie you watched?

I'm watching “The Wire” right now. It's a brilliant television series, have a look:

You're stuck on a train/plane for 6 hours and bored out of your mind, whatdo you do to amuse yourse
Although I have a talent for sleeping in planes and trains, of course I take my laptop and do some WebGUI.

Any last words?
WebGUI Rules!


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