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Why has the Web become the Default Development Platform?

by Dio Synodinos on Nov 28, 2008 |

Joe Walker, creator of Direct Web Remoting  (DWR) , has been summing up the reasons that as he thinks have lead the Web to become the default development platform over the last years. Easy of deployment, simple UI programming, simplicity of HTML and Openness made the Web become the most scalable system today.

Joe starts off by making his point about the Web being the default development platform:

10 years ago the default was probably VB6/Windows, these days it’s just the web.

Jeff Huber, Google’s vice president of engineering, has also advocated in the past that the Web is the dominant platform:

A lot that you have heard here is about platforms and who is going to win. That is Paleolithic thinking. The Web has already won. The web is the Platform.

Joe explains that the Web has (almost) none of the common installation issues:

Zero install saves time, builds trust, reduces clicks and confusion, saves space and is much easier to use.

He goes on by praising the simplicity of the Web UIs:

HTML makes it hard to create overlapping windows, complex dialogs, hidden options, deep menu structures - all the things that can make traditional applications harder to use. It's easy, when someone doesn't 'get' an application, to think that they've got a problem, and that they need a training course.

Joe continues with the notion of “Lazy Text”:

Lazy Text means that web pages are:

  • hackable. Which means advanced users can scrape, mash and plot, and normal users can embed YouTube videos in their blogs.
  • debuggable. When makes them easier to fix, even outside of the development environment.
  • learnable. Which means HTML can be taught in most schools.
  • Postel’s Law compliant. Which means they work. Postel’s Law makes browsers harder to write, can makes pages a mess and is a disaster for security, but there are no exceptions to Postel’s Law

The last quality that Joe finds in the Web Platform is its Openness:

Creating the development platform for the world is quite a responsibility. It would be a mistake to give it to Dr. Evil. There are degrees of openness, and while the web is not in the ideal position, it does appear that there are forces currently taking it in that direction.

Joe thinks that all these reasons have lead the Web to scale easily and this is the reason for it becoming the most widely used platform today:

Zero Install means that the web will scale to billions of pages.

Lazy Text means that the web will scale to millions of developers.

A Simple UI Model means that the web will scale to billions of users.

Openness means that the web will scale to thousands or millions of enablers (the creators of browsers, servers, development tools, etc)

For a reference as to how big the Web has become, the Google Index these days handles about 1 trillion unique URLs, from the 1 billion it handled at the start of the millennium:

We've known it for a long time: the web is big. The first Google index in 1998 already had 26 million pages, and by 2000 the Google index reached the one billion mark. Over the last eight years, we've seen a lot of big numbers about how much content is really out there. Recently, even our search engineers stopped in awe about just how big the web is these days -- when our systems that process links on the web to find new content hit a milestone: 1 trillion (as in 1,000,000,000,000) unique URLs on the web at once!

You can find more information on the Web and other Platforms right here on InfoQ.

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Web development: Developers Worst Nigthmare by Francisco Jose Peredo Noguez

Web development has its advantages, but in my opinion it is overused, and also has a lot of problems:

Zero install saves time, builds trust, reduces clicks and confusion, saves space and is much easier to use. Yes, but it also means you can not use your webapps unless you are connected, you can not access you data unless you are connected. Oh, and that without realizing that Zero install is a myth, because browsers are incompatible even between versions of the same manufacturer, so you have make sure you install the same version (Internet exlorer 5,6,7,8, Firefox 1.x,2.x,3.x, Safari...) that was used to test the web site, you can use Google Gears to save your data locally, but only if you installed it. So much for "Zero install".

HTML makes it hard to create overlapping windows, complex dialogs, hidden options, deep menu structures - all the things that can make traditional applications harder to use. Yes, and it turns out we need those for any non-trivial application, the user request them, and we have to hack a lot of really ugly looking code that needs to work for serveral different incompatible browsers, or use Flash, but then Flash need to get installed. And what if you need talk directly to the printer, or to a scanner, or the sound card or any other "not-so-special" hardware, then you need to install a plugin and that, again confirms that Zero install is a myth

Will the HTML web as we know it now actually survive the increase in bandwidth in the next 10 years, and the competition of Flash and Silverlight (and even JavaFX)? I think (and hope) it does not.

Re: Web development: Developers Worst Nigthmare by Francisco Jose Peredo Noguez

The development community has created stuff like GWT, Google Gears, OpenLazlo, Flash and Silverligth as antidotes for this nightmare... do I really need to say more?

Re: Web development: Developers Worst Nigthmare by Stephen Molitor

Yes writing web apps compatible with all browsers is a bit of a pain, but it's really not that bad with the newer browsers. Zero install is hardly a myth -- did you have to install a new browser to use gmail, or yahoo mail, etc?

The trick is to test with all browsers you want to support early on. If it's a corporate app and you only test with the companies official browser (usually IE) then yes it's going to be hard to make the app cross platform later.

Re: Web development: Developers Worst Nigthmare by Stefan Tilkov

The development community has created stuff like GWT, Google Gears, OpenLazlo, Flash and Silverligth as antidotes for this nightmare... do I really need to say more?


None of these has been able to take away any significant market share from classical web pages yet. The fact is that while developers keep complaining about the Web, users actually like it very much - the fact that they can link to a page, access it from anywhere, don't have to worry about installation issues, can use their sister-in-law's computer to access their stuff are all much more convincing then a programming model or some fancy UI crap only power uses care about.

I don't expect that to change any time soon.

Re: Web development: Developers Worst Nigthmare by Marcelo Lopez

Franciso,

The push for the "Web" to be "the platform" from "hard clients" was everyone's notion that if there was standardization for delivery of content and presentation/interactivity that the binding specifics differing operating systems/operating environments have posed. The sheer fact that web toolkits like GWT, Wicket, Silverlight, AIR/Flex, etc. even EXISTS is a pretty obvious indication that the "freedom" of most web technologies are pretty much a farce.

The problem is, that voice like yours and mine are just but a whisper. No one with sufficient clout has called out the Webanazi establishment to once and for all address the incompatibilities, the unclear or disonant specifications in some cases. The fact that it's all big, well, mashup ( since the Web 2.0 police love to use that word, I'll use it in it's PROPER context ). Don't get me wrong, it's not ALL bad, but boy if it sure doesn't feel like that.

And I have a single question to ask of every single proponent pushing that "the web" remain "the platform". IF the web is supposed to push everyone away from the "paleolithic" style of development of overlapping windows, structured menu, etc.. How come everyone and their grandmother have created everything from javascript libraries to do just that, but most web applications being put out today follow along the same style of visual constructs as most desktop applications of the last couple of decades ?

To me it seems as though everyone has been trying their darnest to GET BACK to the paradigm they "had" on the desktop.

Re: Web development: Developers Worst Nigthmare by Stephen Molitor

Marcelo,

*Developers* are trying to create more complex UIs with Flex, silverlight, etc. It's not clear that users want that. Thus a plethora of frameworks without much adoption on popular web sites.

Re: Web development: Developers Worst Nigthmare by Francisco Jose Peredo Noguez

Didd I have to install a new browser to use gmail, or yahoo mail, etc? of course not, the question is, how many man months were wasted writing code so that gmail, or yahoo mail look the same in any browser?

Re: Web development: Developers Worst Nigthmare by Francisco Jose Peredo Noguez

This article begins saying: "Easy of deployment, simple UI programming, simplicity of HTML and Openness made the Web become the most scalable system today".

Easy deployment: I do not get why installing a particular version of explorer/firefox/safara so that your css works correctly is much easier than installing a particular version of flash, silverlight or java.

Simple UI programming: Are you kidding me? the web is plain the worst platform ever for UI programming, you can not even draw any polygon in a cross browser way! Have you ever heard of the ACID browser tests? You have to do wonders and test things with Internet explorer 5.x, 6.x, 7.x, Firefox 1.x, 2.x, 3.x to make sure everything works?

Simplicity of HTML? Come on! Please don't confuse simplicity with lack of features! Any GUI component model is more feature rich than HTML!

And Openness, yes, of course, Microsoft has always obeyed everything the w3c says, you can download the source code of IE8 from... wait! that is not true? really?

Re: Web development: Developers Worst Nigthmare by Francisco Jose Peredo Noguez

Oh, of course, *Developers* are trying to create more complex UIs, users just hate when AJAX is used for website, they scream " I want to see my pages reload!.

Every user thinks this idea of Google offering an office suite running on the web is the works possible idea ever, in fact, they all prefer to use Microsoft Office, than use Google Office... in fact they are planning an international boycott agaisnt any web application buit with GWT...

What? That is all not true? Mmmm, guess then that what you say is not true either.

Re: Web development: Developers Worst Nigthmare by Roland Brauns

I love those battles over the obvious.
Of course the web has won. Not only in app developmen but also in so many other areas like content publishing, information retrieval, asset tracking/geo info, you name it. And nobody gives a dime for some browser incompatibilities, since the advantages like easy access and true os and hardware independence far outweigh them.
But also of course there will always be room for other programming models. At the moment it just doesn't make sense for some applications to be web based.
So, the right tool for the right job, as always.
Credos are only nice in snappy keynotes.

Re: Web development: Developers Worst Nigthmare by Francisco Jose Peredo Noguez

Of course it has won. I am not saying it hasn't. But is it really such a good thing that it has won?
Maybe it is true, maybe nobody gives a dime for some browser incompatibilities, but the sad fact is that millions are wasted in ill conceived software projects forced to use the web as a platform not because it is the best tool for the job, but because "it is the default platform", it is trendy, it is fashionable, it is what everybody is expecting, who cares if a solution built in another way could have cost half and be developed in faster?.

Re: Web development: Developers Worst Nigthmare by Oleg Gunchenko

Gears in production provides big maintenace problems with data integrity. This leads greater development complexity in case of system is not another RSS Reader.

GWT itself spawns more problems in usage when solves. It just an attemp to recompile market under pretext of development powerfull platform which has a "great debugger". And this state of things will preserve util the engine of GWT became modular.

Re: Web development: Developers Worst Nigthmare by Josep Oncins

how many man months were wasted writing code so that gmail, or yahoo mail look the same in any browser?


The same man/month that it is necessary to give the same look in different platforms.

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