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Neotoma Explorer 2.0 is here!



Neotoma Explorer has been re-engineered from the ground up to provide more flexible, easier, and full-featured access to the Neotoma Paleoecology Database through modern Web browsers.  Explorer 2.0 uses the publicly available Neotoma Application Programming Interface (API) to search and extract the most current data available via REST-ful web services.  An entirely new JavaScript and HTML application, Explorer is built with free and open source Dojo and OpenLayers libraries making it more easily extended and customized compared to previous versions.

A lot of work has been done to migrate to the new JavaScript/HTML platform and API.  Part of this work is a new modular search architecture which we will be expanding in near-term minor releases planned for this summer.  Our goal for 2.0 has been to deliver the same functionality available in the current Explorer plus many usability enhancements and bug fixes.  With the exception of a few minor open issues, this has been accomplished.  We are adopting a rapid release cycle to deliver new functionality, enhancements, and bug fixes monthly.

With the transition from Adobe Flash, we are now subject to web browser-specific differences in the implementations of JavaScript, HTML, and CSS.  While the differences are not as great as they once were and the Dojo Framework helps to mitigate them, we have found issues during our testing.  Of particular note is the way Internet Explorer and Safari handle file downloads.  Both do not allow access to the local file system.  Whereas both Chrome and Firefox allow us to easily save datasets already processed by the Explorer application, IE and Safari require us to prepare and retrieve downloads directly from the web server.  Thus, we’ll need to do a little extra work to move some client functionality to the server to support multiple file downloads; this feature will be coming soon.

Another difference is the speed of the web browser JavaScript engines.  In our testing, the latest versions of Chrome and Firefox are the top performers, respectively.  These browsers also give the best user experience with the application.   Additionally, we have discovered a performance issue that appears to affect all browsers—extensions/add-ons.  In particular, we have found that the Skype Click-to-Call browser add-on severely degrades the performance of the dataset table (i.e., spreadsheet) component.  We recommend disabling this add-on in your browser settings.  Other add-ons that scan/inspect web page content may cause slowdowns as well.

Please give the new Explorer a try here and send us your feedback.  Thanks.

Posted by Brian Bills on 05/16