Peter Ertl, of JME fame, wrote a brief overview of the trend towards web-based chemical applications in the open Journal of Cheminformatics. He describes ChemDoodle Web Components in the section titled Future of Molecule Editing on the Web:

“Another interesting cheminformatics JavaScript application is a collection of components called ChemDoodle (37); this includes 2D and 3D molecule viewers, and also a simple molecule editor called Doodler.”

I also agree that these technologies have immense potential to revolutionize how the sciences are presented, especially in interactive form. We at iChemLabs believe that HTML5/Javascript/Canvas/WebGL based interfaces are the future of chemically based software frontends.

I do kindly disagree with Peter on two points. The first is a statement about the benefits of server-side editors over applets and Javascript:

“one can see the return of server-side molecule editors with light JavaScript clients and the actual molecule processing done on the server”

While it is quite beneficial to put computationally intensive processes on backend servlets to avoid overextending client web applications, I believe it is a mistake to remove the rendering and sketching algorithms of chemical sketchers from the frontend. This will cause user experiences to vary depending on their internet connection quality, and occasionally even quality connections will experience slowdowns. In these cases, a user will begin to draw a molecule and see a lag in their gestures and sketching. By keeping all the sketching and rendering algorithms on the frontend, the user experiences a precise and responsive interface. Peter also notes that these servlet solutions are necessary when a user disables Javascript for security reasons, however Javascript has seen considerable improvements in security and even server-side solutions will see their Javascript powered frontends rendered useless.

The second point concerns Flash technologies:

“Another technology for adding interactivity to web pages is Adobe Flash. Although currently used mostly for creating advertisements and video-streamimg applications, integrated scripting language called ActionScript also allows interactive drawing within web pages. To the authors knowledge, no molecule editor has been written in Flash, yet, but available chemical applications like chemical structure viewer (38), or crystal viewer (39), show that that Flash can be used to create nice interactive chemical applications. One can therefore expect that sooner or later, a molecule editor written in Flash will appear.”

Flash is an embedded technology, just like applets are, and suffers from the same problems. I believe HTML5 will completely replace Flash on the web. Additionally, Flash is not supported on iPhone OS, while HTML5 is supported by Mobile Safari.

Certainly, Peter provides great insight into the development of web-based chemical technologies. I recommend that anyone interested in this field read his article.

At iChemLabs, we strive to develop scientific applications with new technologies such as HTML5/Canvas/WebGL to provide better solutions to our partners and collaborators. We are currently working with organizations that would like to provide native browser experiences to their clients. Let us worry about protecting the frontend graphical user interface code, developing the graphical features you require, browser compatibility, and integrating our services with your servlets. This allows you to focus on the work you enjoy and want to provide to your customers. We will take care of the presentation and browser deployment. You may contact us at any time if you are interested in collaborating with us on any of our technologies.