User Interface Design w/ Embedded Web Server

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I was wondering if anyone has information on making good user
interfaces for embedded devices with web servers?

My company produces embedded products that has a lot of status and
control information, and we have always used custom desktop
applications (communicating via SNMP) for the graphical user
interface.

My fear of going to an embedded web server is that the user interface
will suffer, especially in terms of the controls that need to be
presented to the user.  We have what I believe is a very slick
management application, and I don't want to lose any of the usability
by going to a web server.

Anyone know of any good sites or books on the subject?

Thanks,

Tim Behne

Re: User Interface Design w/ Embedded Web Server

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Don't move to a web server, then.  Because the chances that you'll
manage to reproduce any kind of involved GUI using a reasonably simple
embedded webserver (no javascript or other contraptions, *definitely*
no Flash) are essentially zero.

Just ask yourself how the best interactive websites you've seen
yourself compare to your existing GUI, and don't forget to cross-check
what techniques they used --- some of which are way out of reach for
an embedded device's web interface.  That should give you a feeling
what you can, and more importantly, what you can't do.
--
Hans-Bernhard Broeker ( snipped-for-privacy@physik.rwth-aachen.de)
Even if all the snow were burnt, ashes would remain.

Re: User Interface Design w/ Embedded Web Server

: Don't move to a web server, then.  Because the chances that you'll
: manage to reproduce any kind of involved GUI using a reasonably simple
: embedded webserver (no javascript or other contraptions, *definitely*
: no Flash) are essentially zero.
:

Um... javascript and flash both run on the BROWSER, not the server.

I would recommend that you look into 'boa' if you're needing an embedded
webserver.  Also, check out the axis web cameras if you'd like to see a
somewhat decent UI for a product. (hint: search for 'axis camera 2.33' and
you'll find tons of them, some without passwords...)

--buddy

--
Remove '.spaminator' and '.invalid' from email address
when replying.


Re: User Interface Design w/ Embedded Web Server
snipped-for-privacy@microwavenetworks.com (Tim Behne) writes:

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It's not embedded management specific, but http://www.useit.com is an
excellent place to read about web usability.  There are both
guidelines and case studies.

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Yes, there was cli, then snmp, sometimes corba, now this.
Unfortunately, emergence of a new management interface does not
automatically result in the previous one going away, so half the time
one ends up supporting all of the above!

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The main trap to avoid is one you may be teetering on the edge of
already.  It is important to think of your web management project *as
a web management project*, not as a conversion or reimplementation
project of any sort.  If you design with a conversion mindset, then
you will produce a godawful kludge of a management application
implemented over http, and you will eventually throw it out.  If you
design with a fresh start mindset you may be able to produce a nice
web-esque management interface that is both powerful and intuitive.

If you really feel that your product cannot be operated usefully from
a web-style interface, then the conventional alternative is to
construct a Java management application and plonk that in as the "web"
interface.  IMHO, this is a questionable path, no matter how popular
it is.

--
Grant Taylor - gtaylor<at>picante.com - http://www.picante.com/~gtaylor /
   Linux Printing Website and HOWTO:  http://www.linuxprinting.org /

Re: User Interface Design w/ Embedded Web Server
On 4 Nov 2003 10:17:12 -0800, snipped-for-privacy@microwavenetworks.com (Tim

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Have a look at my article for Embedded Systems Programming at
http://www.panelsoft.com/murphyslaw . Title: It's Worse on a Browser,
August 2001.

In short the artcle says you are probably better off the way you are -
my article warns about some of the ways in which the interface will
suffer on the web.
    Niall Murphy

===========================
See the User Interfaces for Embedded Systems Page
at http://www.panelsoft.com

Re: User Interface Design w/ Embedded Web Server
Thanks, Niall.

I actually read your article back then and it helped to convince me
not to do an embedded server at that time.  I was just wondering if
there have been any advancements over the past two years that I have
not been privy to.

Re: User Interface Design w/ Embedded Web Server
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I recognize your experertise in this space, but let me suggest an
alternate perspective...

It may be easier/better for the device to serve up its own interface, in
order to keep target and client in sync and improve accessibility.
(Though clearly this has to be balanced with device cost.)

If you need a rich GUI, why not have the device serve up a feature-rich
Java client, offering many of the best features from both approaches?
It'd let you keep the device low-powered (though with lots of flash for
storing the Java code for download), shifting the overhead of a rich GUI
to the powerful client PC.


Case in point:  Years back, Bay Networks (now Nortel) took the position
that their networking gear was 100% configurable via SNMP, using their
own thick GUI client.  It sounded great in theory.  In practice, it
experienced a host of issues.

* Client software had to sync versions with the target device, creating
issues for customers with multiple devices.  New features required
regular client upgrades.  But bugs in new releases meant one client
couldn't manage all devices.

* The client had to be installed - a huge issue for operational support
environments where ad-hoc access was needed (e.g., from home).  Or where
a compatible PC platform wasn't available.


In either case you've got to contend with supporting software issues at
the client PC.  Are we at a point where Java is deployed broadly enough
to depend on it's presence?

Re: User Interface Design w/ Embedded Web Server

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I can see how Nortel expierieced all of those problems, but did they
solve them with a Java client - I would be impressed if they did, but
I fear that they would just have replaced them with issues of ensuring
that the client devices would run the appropriate JVM to support the
client - though maybe these would be less troublesome than the
situation you describe..

Having said that, the main point of my article was that serving the
GUI from the client solved lots of deployment problems for the vendor,
but the result is a worse experience for the user (not necessarily the
installer/administrator). Generic GUI's like HTML can not hope to be
as good as a native GUI. Java can come closer, but is still far short
of a native Windows or X application.

If you want to trade off user-experience against ease of deployment,
that is your choice (and easier deployment may be the right choice in
some cases, but in those cases I would prefer to be the supplier, not
the customer).


===========================
See the User Interfaces for Embedded Systems Page
at http://www.panelsoft.com

Re: User Interface Design w/ Embedded Web Server
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At last word, they were still slugging away with the same approach.
Admittedly, theirs is an extremely complex example, but nonetheless an
experience that made an impression.


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Agreed.  But I've seen some pretty impressive Java clients (e.g., Oracle
has several) - there are even Java-based VPN clients now.  As an
observer, it seems Java is being used successfully to deliver some
pretty rich features.

I was hoping the deployment issues of JVMs might have been overcome in
the 2 years since your article; it sounds like that may not be the case
yet?

Cheers,
Richard

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