Announcing Amber.js

A little over a year ago, I got my first serious glimpse at SproutCore, the JavaScript framework Apple used to build MobileMe (now iCloud). At the time, I had worked extensively with jQuery and Rails on client-side projects, and I had never found the arguments for the "solutions for big apps" very compelling. At the time, most of the arguments (at least within the jQuery community) focused on bringing more object orientation to JavaScript, but I never felt that they offered the layers of abstraction you really want to manage complexity.

When I first started to play with SproutCore, I realized that the bindings and computed properties were what gave it its real power. Bindings and computed properties provide a clean mechanism for building the layers of abstractions that improve the structure of large applications.

But even before I got involved in SproutCore, I had an epiphany one day when playing with Mustache.js. Because Mustache.js was a declarative way of describing a translation from a piece of JSON to HTML, it seemed to me that there was enough information in the template to also update the template when the underlying data changed. Unfortunately, Mustache.js itself lacked the power to implement this idea, and I was still lacking a robust enough observer library.

Not wanting to build an observer library in isolation (and believing that jQuery's data support would work in a pinch), I started working on the first problem: building a template engine powerful enough to build automatically updating templates. The kernel of the idea for Handlebars (helpers and block helpers as the core primitives) came out of a discussion with Carl Lerche back when we were still at Engine Yard, and I got to work.

When I met SproutCore, I realized that it provided a more powerful observer library than anything I was considering at the time for the data-binding aspect of Handlebars, and that SproutCore's biggest weakness was the lack of a good templating solution in its view layer. I also rapidly became convinced that bindings and computed properties were a significantly better abstraction, and allowed for hiding much more complexity, than manually binding observers.

After some months of retooling SproutCore with Tom Dale to take advantage of an auto-updating templating solution that fit cleanly into SproutCore's binding model, we reached a crossroads. SproutCore itself was built from the ground up to provide a desktop-like experience on desktop browsers, and our ultimate plan had started to diverge from the widget-centric focus of many existing users of SproutCore. After a lot of soul-searching, we decided to start from scratch with SproutCore 2.0, taking with us the best, core ideas of SproutCore, but leaving the large, somewhat sprawling codebase behind.

Since early this year, we have worked with several large companies, including ZenDesk, BazaarVoice and LivingSocial, to iterate on the core ideas that we started from to build a powerful framework for building ambitious applications.

Throughout this time, though, we became increasingly convinced that calling what we were building "SproutCore 2.0" was causing a lot of confusion, because SproutCore 1.x was primarily a native-style widget library, while SproutCore 2.0 was a framework for building web-based applications using HTML and CSS for the presentation layer. This lack of overlap causes serious confusion in the IRC room, mailing list, blog, when searching on Google, etc.

To clear things up, we have decided to name the SproutCore-inspired framework we have been building (so far called "SproutCore 2.0") "Amber.js". Amber brings a proven MVC architecture to web applications, as well as features that eliminate common boilerplate. If you played with SproutCore and liked the concepts but felt like it was too heavy, give Amber a try. And if you're a Backbone fan, I think you'll love how little code you need to write with Amber.

In the next few days, we'll be launching a new website with examples, documentation, and download links. Stay tuned for further updates soon.

UPDATE: The code for Amber.js is still, as of December 8, hosted at the SproutCore organization. It will be moved and re-namespaced within a few days.