Portico: The Road to HTML5

Sidwell is excited to announce the upcoming release of a new generation of Portico. This release is currently in the hands of customers as a limited beta. That makes it a good time to reflect upon the road that led to Portico for HTML5.

NOTE: As usual, the contents are my personal opinion. Sidwell does not endorse the accuracy or reliability of this information, and cannot be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information.

The Choice of Silverlight

Sidwell built the original Portico on Silverlight. Microsoft released Silverlight in 2007 as a browser plugin similar to Adobe Flash. According to Microsoft, “Silverlight runs on all major OS’s plus all major browsers, including Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari, and yes, Internet Explorer.” As early as 2009, ESRI wrote, “The Silverlight API has proven to be very popular, and we expect this to grow over time.” Sidwell chose to develop on Silverlight NOT because it was easy, but because it was a proven technology, recommended by ESRI for GIS web development. Even though the JavaScript API was available, it was certainly not feature rich, and the performance was deplorable. It would have been irresponsible and a disservice to our customers to build Portico using another technology.

The Evolution of the Internet

Beginning in 2010, the tide had changed. New standards emerged, and modern browsers adopted those standards. Graphics hardware and performance have improved. New languages and new development tools have emerged. JavaScript frameworks, such as Dojo, have matured. In short, HTML5 was becoming the future.

It soon became clear that the future of the entre Internet would be plugin-free. In September of 2013, Google announced their deprecation plan for plugins in Chrome, including Silverlight, Unity, Google Earth, Java, and others. Google’s decision to eliminate plugins from their browser added some urgency to the adoption of new technologies. Google Chrome has always been a pioneer in advancing the web, and even though Chrome has become the bloatware that it had once sought to replace, this browser still holds a significant market share.

In a November 2014 blog post, ESRI made clear what many technologists already knew.

The next release of each ArcGIS API and Viewer (for Flex and Silverlight) will be significant in that they are the last planned releases of two once-popular technologies. While technical support will be available for both APIs and viewers through June of 2016, maintenance of these products will be discontinued.

The Introduction of Portico Mobile

With mobile devices exploding into the marketplace, Portico evolved with this trend. In November 2014, Sidwell introduced Portico Mobile, which is a platform independent, plugin-free version of Portico designed for phones and tablets. Portico Mobile offers a subset of features that users were likely to use on a mobile device, such as Search, Identify, and Layer Selection. Sidwell intentionally excluded workflows that users were unlikely to use on a small touchscreen, such as Measure, Analysis, and Print. While other products claim to support mobile devices, only Portico provides a true mobile experience that puts the “map first”.

The Introduction of Portico HTML5

At the same time, Sidwell has been working hard on the next generation of Portico. Sidwell rebuilt Portico using TypeScript and Dojo. Behind the scenes, Sidwell rebuilt the Portico backend using Microsoft’s WebAPI. Sidwell broadened the scope to support ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS webmaps. Sidwell engineers continue to push performance through new standards such as WMTS and vector tiles. Of course, Portico still relies on ESRI’s ArcGIS Server to provide dynamic GIS data.

This new Portico will benefit Sidwell’s customers in many ways. First, Portico will no longer require a plugin, and will work across all modern browsers – including Microsoft Edge in Windows 10. The engineers have been able to add new features that would have been awkward or impossible in Silverlight. Moreover, the new Portico API will allow Sidwell, its customers, and partners to build applications that extend what Portico already offers.

Customer Trust Comes First

Our Silverlight viewer continues to be available to our customers. We are asking our customers to opt-in to the new viewer once their site is tested and ready. When the HTML5 viewer reaches feature parity with our Silverlight viewer, Sidwell will deprecate the classic viewer.

Sidwell places its customers’ trust first. The company’s engineers continue to be at the forefront of emerging technologies, so that when these technologies are proven and enterprise ready, Sidwell can bring them to customers.