How Open should the web be.

Brendan Eich (CTO Mozilla) put a great post up around "The Open Web and Its Adversaries" and its got some depth in the subject matter. I put my comment inline with his site so go visit if you want to read my thoughts on the matter (keep the discussion there not fragmented) but overall I like what he is selling, but not if it means still being in the current browsers we have today.

If we are going to kick off another browser war (it's long overdue) then i'd rather we pin our hopes on technologies like WPF or Apollo. As at least I can see a richer experience down this road and more agility to the end-developers overall. Why be restricted to making sites that comply with an agent when you can if need be, bend the agent to comply with the content.

I'd rather that the next generation be a runtime that feeds off a framework only and its up to the URI that the end-user visits to bring context back to the equation.

Could you imagine a web where you type in a web address, and the entire run time changes to suite the specific context of the content and at various levels. It's then up to the new-generation developers to figure out what Metadata best describes the application to pump out into raw formats like RSS for example, and then Google and other concepts need a better way - more visual way - of identifing signal to noise.

Open Web can play a part in this to, as if we can move as much of the code base into an open transparent manner as possible (while still being allowed to hold passive pieces as closed off source - keep some IP in the game) then this would be optimal.

It's a concept i've not really unpicked further and pinned the details down on but to me I honest to god, hope that the next 5 years software gets built to suite context instead of universal approach - but does so using distributed universal pieces.

WPF/e for me hints in the right places to this area, now I need to worm my way into the heads of the featurelist team (heh).

** Upate: Since Brendan hasn't approved my post, here its **

Hi, first time commenter long-time reader :)

Being open can mean many things to many people, and I would argue that the only realistic reason for HTML's success is the fact it was transparent, it slowly evolved over time (going from 1.0 to 4.0 was a great experience to be part of) but it's reached a point where its now mutated into something that was realistically never even intended.

I'd argue that the Rich formats proposed are an extension of this existance, in that it's sole purpose is to give depth back to the web but in a more business orientated focus and less about page-like content.

If you look at the mainstream use of Flash/Flex based applications they are projected as being interactive or a thin-ware approach to solving line of business problems.

If you then look at mainstream websites built in HTML, they generall are "document" style formatted with a hint of interaction when Forms are presented to the end user.

The problem over the last decade I guess is that we the developer/designer generation have bent and manipulated the browsers and HTML+JS into shaping up to be something that just seems to constantly go against the grain.

Flash although it has limitations in some parts can offer the extension path, the path where you want to combine video/audio and rich vibrant forms doing on the fly validation with server-side binding (all those things that appeals to the average AJAX punter in terms of server-side to client-side connectivity) is the right path per say - in that it should never of been flash's job to do that.

It should of been the browsers, yet it didn't and so that's why I think that the open web is flawed going forward in some parts. As it had its chance and has somehow stumbled its way forward.

I had great hopes a few years ago when Mozilla was hinting with XUL in that you had a rich client approach to things, bolted back onto the browser were I guess it should of been while at the same time you had transparency in terms of code base. So, the dotComs were going to get nervous about IP being stolen - which is fair call but overall it would of hopefully kicked off the "Internet Next Boom".

It didn't.

Flash has been sitting around for some time now, evolving every year I guess into something new and better - kudos to Macromedia/Adobe but it's shaping up to solve a problem that the browsers can't.

Now comes the ask, on how do we semantically identify Rich media to enable indexing and search specific agents? - sorry no. As you ask that now for Desktop Applications and you get confused looks. What we do have as a model is the output these applicatons generate, in that a .doc file for example - that's fair game, and that should be searchable.

A Mortgage calculator shouldn't be.

The danger with Flash based initiatives is they are becoming the "brower" and the "content" all in one - that's kind of what both appeals to me about Apollo and also why It makes me nervous. As you're now forking away from the mainstream browser agent itself.

WPF/e is kind of bringing some new mixed with old, where it will enable you to extend beyond the browsers current capabilities in different platforms while at the same time providing a transparent code-base for others to poke around in (which may appeal to the concerned folks about Microsoft and security).

It's an extension of WPF and while Flash and WPF/e will compete on some parts they serve individual needs and will provide a point of difference each to their own. One is more open then the other but will that hurt or benefit it.

If i were someone homing in on the Open Web initiative, i'd use these two pieces as my "To watch" as on one hand you have a compiled binary (SWF) that has at present no "transparency" once packed together. On the flipside you will have one that does similiar job but has transparency.

I look back on all the evolving technologies and can see that the next "browser wars" will be the "agent wars" - who out there can blur the line between internet and desktop will be the outside winner.

Developers have upped the stakes, they want more then what the browser's today can offer and are demanding it.

Open Web has pontential but not in the current existance it is now.

I'd further argue with technologies like Apollo, WPF etc - you the developer have an easier reach in terms of providing power to create your own Browser and implement what you feel right.

Scott Barnes
Developer Evangelist,
Microsoft.