Mashups

So I tried to think about the web from the perspective of an application platform. Having built what we have, what could we do differently if we could do it from scratch? Clearly, security is one of the biggest problems. It is a problem with existing applications, but many of those security holes can be protected against with effort. The even harder security problems are the ones that have no solution. The kind that are attempting to be solved by Google Gears. Mashups have become a popular idea that cannot meet their true potential due to insecure connections between domains/owners/code bases.

In a recent presentation by Douglas Crockford, he talks about moving the web forward. There is a lot of great stuff here. There always is. But there are two major things that I wanted to address.

  1. “The next great leap [in software] might realize the dream of assembling software like Lego.” He further stated that that leap was being realized already through Mashups.
  2. Mr. Crockford goes on to describe how the current web technologies (both open AND closed) are far too insecure for anything but the most trivial Mashups. He then lays out how the web can move forward:
    • Safe JavaScript subsets (Caja, Cajita, ADsafe)
    • Communicating Vats (Gears)
    • Secure Programming Language (?????)

Interestingly enough, I recently saw something on InfoQ about “Lego” software in a presentation called, “The Lego Hypothesis” by James Noble. His presentation is worth a listen, but it is long and rambling and a little hard to summarize as easily as Douglas Crockford’s. However, the subject matter was relative. He discusses the history and feasibility of the dream of Lego block software. The same concept as described by Crockford in his presentation that he believes will be the “next great leap”. Noble demonstrated the complication in the Lego dream. Mostly that it’s a lot more complicated than plugging different parts together. You cannot build a complete application out of simple reusable parts. Some things have far too many dependencies to be simply abstracted into a reusable plug interface. In contemporary programming the best we can hope for is to glue together what we can to reuse.  Near the end of the presentation, he did in fact point out how Mashups have the right idea and that more and more software will go in that direction.

I agree with Crockford and Noble. The fact is that modern software and the web are fully intertwined. There is no going back to the dark ages of isolated machines. It’s not just about RIA anymore. And the fact is, as we move more and more towards networked information, we will need the ability to integrate between parties that have to operate under mutual suspicion. Crockfords third point about how the web can move forward has some question marks next to it, but I hope that Spindle can be a possible solution. A language with the goals of secure distributed computing.

I know I keep putting this off. I started this post with the intent of actually describing Spindle, but I guess it’ll have to wait till next time.

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