Usability improvements to the e-Science Central SDK

Recap

The intention of this project was to remove the main drawback with e-Science Central (e-SC) – the fact that the Software Development Kit for integrating new workflow blocks into the system was still an independent stand-alone application with a completely different user interface to the rest of e-SC. The rest of e-SC is provided as an online (Web 2.0) style application in which the user requires nothing locally installed other than a Web browser. This was in contrast to the SDK which presented a different Java based GUI containing large amounts of superfluous information and options (only applicable to the developers of the SDK) such as deep hierarchical tree structures for where elements needed to be placed.

To use the SDK created a steep learning curve for any potential user, as they would first need to install a number of software dependencies, including Java and Maven, before they could install the SDK. This was further complicated as updates to the core e-SC software base would often require equivalent updates to the SDK. Communication between the SDK and the core e-SC often failed due to networking problems and proxy issues. We were also aware that a number of users preferred to develop their code in their own IDE before importing it into e-SC as a workflow block.

The new SDK has been developed as part of the online e-SC Web based application. This has immediately removed the need for local software installation, software versioning issues and network issues. The presentation style of the new SDK is now more in fitting with the style of the rest of the e-SC application. All of these help reduce the learning curve for a user who wishes to move from developing workflows with pre-defined blocks to developing their own blocks.

The SDK now supports two usage modes those of expert and wizard support. The expert user interface allows access to all of the features that a user needs to have access to in order to import pre-developed code as a block within e-SC. The wizard support interface guides a user through a set of screens allowing a less experienced programmer to install a new workflow block within e-SC. On completion of the wizard the user is dropped into the expert mode where they can either save the new block or tweak the block before saving. Although this was not the original intention, though after showing the new SDK to the existing user base it was decided to keep this as it was felt that it allowed more of a transition from using the wizard to using the expert mode.

Documentation for using the new SDK has been developed though as the coding of the new SDK took more effort than expected the integration of the help information into the SDK – providing interactive help – was not completed during the project. This will be added at a later date.

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