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RIA and me

In yesterday’s post about the end of WS-*, I tacked on a throwaway comment about RIA. To wit: “Now, of course, the same cast of characters are manning the ramparts in RIA vs. the Web. I know where I’d place my bets.” And even though the post was not about RIA, that’s what a number of people took issue with. (Interesting that no one seemed to care about the Ragnarok of web services.) So let me clarify my position on this subject.

  1. I’m not all that vested in this controversy.
  2. I have not looked deeply into Apollo/Flex, Siverlight, JavaFX, etc.
  3. My gut tells me that five years from now HTML, CSS, JS, DOM will be the preferred deployment environment for the Web.
  4. My main problem with these RIA technologies today is that they are proprietary. My other main problem is this looks like a land grab.
  5. “RIA vs. the Web” was a poor choice of words. “Proprietary RIA vs ubiquitous standards” might have been better.
  6. I have no problem with anyone using these RIA solutions, if the technology addresses business requirements
  7. I admit that they are easier to develop towards than Ajax.
  8. I sure wish Adobe and MS would try and float all boats and not just their own

That said, Patrick Logan paints an interesting picture that I hadn’t really considered. Rather than viewing Apollo—for example—as a proprietary plugin to a browser, view it as yet another Web-capable client with some interesting features. That is Apollo equates more to (a closed source) Firefox+XUL than anything else. I’m cool with that.

At Burton Group we have these things called reference architectures. They begin with principles (e.g., best of breed vs single vendor), and then move on to technical positions–stakes in the ground (e.g., J2EE only). My principles are open source preferred over closed, standards over proprietary. My technical position for developing Web apps is HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and other standard technologies only–exceptions must be justified. Must run in IE, FF, and Safari on Windows 2000 on up, Mac OS X, and Linux. But, hey, that’s just me.

Oh, and I just downloaded Apollo (painful registration process), picked an app to run (an RSS reader), received a nice warning that it had unrestricted system access (yikes!), let it install itself locally (???), saw it has yet another look and feel (bother), and renders at near glacial speeds (sadness). Fine. But not for me.

Bottom line: If Apollo and Silverlight work for you? Good on ya. For me, for now, I’m sitting this one out.

{ 14 } Comments

  1. Mark Baker | May 15, 2007 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    “That is Apollo equates more to (a closed source) Firefox+XUL than anything else.”

    Right, that’s a good way to think about it. But then the next logical question to ask is, how is that different than the bad old days when a site was developed for one particular browser?

    Ubiquity counts, big time.

  2. Pete | May 15, 2007 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    Mark: “how is that different than the bad old days when a site was developed for one particular browser?”

    Not at all.

  3. Asbjørn Ulsberg | May 16, 2007 at 3:49 am | Permalink

    Exactly. It’s not different from “one site, one browser” and it’s not “on and of the web” as several Apollo/Flex-proponents claim it to be. It’s *off* the web. Just because it talks TCP over port 80 doesn’t make it “of and on the web”. If it lacks hypertext (and semantics, imo), it’s not on the web. And if it’s a binary, proprietary blob, it’s not of it either.

  4. Patrick Mueller | May 16, 2007 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I have a hard time understanding why people are complaining about new client technologies becoming available. Sure, they suck in various ways, or are just different. On the other hand, they’re innovative.

    You mention “I sure wish Adobe and MS would try and float all boats and not just their own”. Think broader. The boats are being floated for new ways of thinking about clients, for increased use of RESTy data-oriented web usage, etc. Not to mention, again, the innovation these new technologies bring, that will light a fire under, say, moz-based browser developers / fan boys to compete. If these new coolio client technologies really start to take off, moz will have some serious competition. Competition good.

    In retrospect, were the 1990’s browser wars good, or bad?

  5. Pete | May 16, 2007 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Patrick: How innovative these technologies are is up for debate (XAML looks a lot like XUL), but is also besides the point. While I completely understand that Adobe and MS are for-profit businesses, if they wanted to float all boats, they wouldn’t engage in competition with Moz via proprietary deployment environments. Instead they could have either:

    1. Contributed this functionality straight to Mozilla
    2. Embraced existing standards (e.g. *HTML?, SVG) or open source XML-based GUI frameworks (e.g. XUL) rather than create something unique.
    3. Created new, real (not de facto) standards that anyone can implement.

    And what’s this about competing with Mozilla, anyway? Adobe is competing with MS, and vice-versa. They are trying to convince developers that the wildly successful Web isn’t really good enough for “real” applications. What you need is this flashy runtime and these rich developer tools. It’s a land grab, and I don’t buy it.

    Here’s an excerpt from Mike Shaver’s (the Mozilla Technology Strategist) post on the subject:

    When the tool spits out some bundle of shining Deployment-Ready Code Artifact, do you get something that can be mashed up, styled, scripted, indexed by search engines, read aloud by screen readers, read by humans, customized with greasemonkey, reformatted for mobile devices, machine-translated, excerpted, transcluded, edited live with tools like Firebug? Or do you get a chunk of dead code with some scripted frills about the edges, frozen in time and space, until you need to update it later and have to figure out how to get the same tool setup you had before, and hope that the platform is still getting security and feature updates?

    The long and the short of it is the Web works. Sure, Web technologies are also far from perfect. And I’d much rather see MS and Adobe working to improve this situation within the spirit of the Web; universal and open, rather than “competing” to own a piece of the Web with their narrow and proprietary toolkits.

    But listen, if someone says that Apollo/Silverlight meets their needs (whatever they are), and they’re willing to develop towards a single runtime (maybe because the app is for internal deployment and they can control the corporate desktop), then, really, that’s fine. It’s just not for me, that’s all.

  6. Patrick Logan | May 16, 2007 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    I don’t get the panic. But to point out just one small bit of apollo fairly clearly… to Mike Shaver’s question, the answer is clearly “yes”.

    Look at the apollo site… it *includes* the standard browser components for visiting sites that service standard browser stuff.

    What more can be said about that? Pretty clear.

  7. Patrick Mueller | May 16, 2007 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    Pete: Your definition of the web is different than mine. You seem to be largely considering the ‘web’ to be ‘a web browser’. I see the web as a sea of servers and clients.

    I’m as upset about Flex and Silverlight as everyone else is about MS having a proprietary web server platform (ie, not at all). Where are the cries for “Why couldn’t have MS just contributed to Apache HTTPD?”

    But, back to the client, where is the outrage over any client that uses the web that isn’t running in a browser? iTunes, for instance. Completely fails Mike’s test.

    Client (browser) wars. Competition. Good for everyone. Monoculture bad. Frankly, FF had no competition till this stuff reared it’s head, technologically, and thus was on a path to IE-like stagnation. Competition is a good stagnation killer.

  8. Pete | May 16, 2007 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Patrick M. Actually, my definition of the Web is a sea of servers and clients communicating via open standards. If Adobe thought it necessary to bring a standards compliant browser to market, I wouldn’t have cared at all. Might even have welcomed it. But what Adobe and MS are doing is “embracing and extending” the Web. Sooner or later someone’s gonna slip a reference to Apollo’s window.runtime object into their JavaScript code, and - BAM! - it’s all over. That application is now Apollo only.

    Now, if you went in knowingly, and it works for you, then great, fantastic, couldn’t be happier for you. However, I think in the long run those applications that cross the line into proprietary won’t remain viable, because they’re not built on standards. I also remain cynical of the vendor’s motives.

  9. Patrick Mueller | May 16, 2007 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    Pete: your definition is great. And guess what? Flex and Silverlight apps will be communicating to servers via open standards: HTTP. It’s the only game in town, if you want to attract any network client to your server. Yah, Adobe and MS may have other proprietary protocols, but I don’t think that’s the issue here. I’m assuming HTTP all the way down. They’ll lose big time if they try to re-invent HTTP, or invent whacky proprietary protocols on top of HTTP.

    I think your embrace/extend is a bit wrong. ActionScript 3 (flex) and Any-Coolio-Language (Silverlight) are too different from plain old JS for this to be considered extending. Apples and oranges.

    I think it’s fair to say, to some extent, they are embracing and extending the browser. But they’re not embracing and extending the web.

    Just to be clear, I think the ball is clearly in FF’s corner on this one, unless MS and Adobe open up their stories more. Adobe in the runtime side, Adobe and MS in the tooling side. But I welcome our new whacked out client overlords, in as much as they’ll be bringing some new ideas to the table. Remember when Python was going to be part of FF? What happened to that? Think anyone’s thinking of that again? What about Ruby in FF?

    What are your thoughts on Slingshot? http://www.joyent.com/news/press-releases/2007/05/01/joyent-announces-slingshot-public-release/

  10. Patrick Logan | May 16, 2007 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    “I think the ball is clearly in FF’s corner on this one”

    That’s good. I want to use the best, most open components possible. The only problem I have is FF is not currently as widely available as Flash, and not nearly as capable per developer erg.

    Also, the DOM is fine and general. Ok. But as someone whose done a lot of structured graphics via a display list, and sees *many* uses for such a thing, the DOM is not as good as the Flash/Flex display list. That goes for svg, canvas, etc.

    I’d like to see FF move in the direction of providing a good display list capability for structured graphics, even if it is using the DOM, svg, etc.

  11. John Dowdell | May 19, 2007 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    Maybe one thing that would help is to remember that the World Wide Web of hyperlinked documents is based upon the Internet, but is not the only use of the Internet.

    “Rich Internet Applications” are Internet applications. They can use the WWW’s HTTP protocol, due to their general ability to use Internet protocols.

    The Net is larger than the Web. Does that way of looking at things help at all…?

    jd/adobe

    (PS: Apollo helps bring WWW pages and applications to the desktop, with file-writing privileges, cross-domain privileges, and other abilities found in applications downloaded from trusted sources. Apollo’s novelty is that you can use your HTML and JavaScript expertise to build desktop applications — closer to XULRunner than Firefox. The nice thing about WWW browsers is that you can surf safely anywhere in the world. Apollo is more for when you trust a site enough to grant them additional functionality.)

  12. Pete | May 19, 2007 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    John: I just published a more accurate view of Apollo. I had it all queued up before seeing your comment, but I think we’re in synch. It’s not glowing, but I think it’s accurate. Hey, and thanks for taking an even tone even though I took factually unsupported pot-shots at your employer.

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