The Premise

If you haven’t seen it already, I recommend you watch this presentation by Douglas Crockford. Douglas Crockford, love him or hate him, knows a lot about internet technologies.  Even if there are aspects you do not agree with, I think his presentation makes many good points. To summarize:

  • Despite its flaws, standard web technologies (html/css/javascript) are hugely successful and have been able to accomplish what others have not.
  • It provides a taste of the potential for the internet – mashups, social computing, powerful web-based applications.
  • We’ve used (abused) every ounce of functionality made available by browsers, but we’re reaching the end of line.
  • There has been very little advancement of the browsers in the past 10 years.
  • We need to move forward, but there is no clear path.

Every web developer is aware of the difficulties of cross-browser ajax application development.  Javascript libraries have made a valiant effort and taken us a long way, but we have a long way to go.

New Developments

The competition for beating the new Acid 3 test has been fierce, and now Opera and Webkit have cooked up versions capable of passing. There is also  building support for the unfinished HTML 5 specification in several browsers.  Also, IE8 beta is passing Acid 2, as well as contributing some of its own new developments.  One might think that this is the answer.  Maybe we don’t have to worry as much as Douglas Crockford might think we do.  Here’s the problem: a lot of people are still using IE6!  Even if all browsers came together right now – even if IE replaced their rendering engine with webkit, there would still be problems.  The web just doesn’t move that fast.

Other Thoughts

recent post by Chris Keene and Alex Russell describes this proprietary side of the web, the “unweb”. They propose that the way to save the open web is as follows:

The key to the web’s future is real competition between the browser vendors that will force them to evolve the browser quickly. These features include:

  • Auto update capabilities
  • 3-d rendering
  • Support for new semantics in HTML
  • In short, give us native ability within the browser to do what we otherwise have to do in Javascript libraries

I think that this is one possible route, and good advice in general.  But is it a realistic possibility? Competition between browsers is a good way of moving forward, but also leads to incompatibilities.  Javascript libraries will once again be the stopgap to manage these incompatibilities, with the end result being the lowest common denominator.  Definitely better than nothing, but the real question, is it better than the “unweb” alternative.

Possible Solution

I believe there is an alternative solution.  I believe it is possible to fight fire with fire. If Flex/Silverlight/JavaFX threaten the open web, is there a way to compete on the same playing field? If the w3c technologies can’t compete, can we take a different route? I propose that one very real solution to the problem would be to create an open source plugin technology to compete. It would allow a few things. First of all, it could ignore backwards compatibility because there would be nothing to be compatible to. Secondly, the cross browser issue would be resolved by being a plugin instead of a single browser implementation.

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