AJAX in Action

Christopher Keene

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RIA & Ajax: Article

The Struggle for the Soul of the Web

Flash and Silverlight vs the Open Web

Chris Keene's "Keene View" Blog

Just because the web has been open so far doesn't mean that it will stay that way. Flash and Silverlight, arguably the two market-leading technology toolkits for rich media applications are not open. Make no mistake - Microsoft and Adobe aim to have their proprietary plug-ins, aka pseudo-browsers, become the rendering engines for the next generation of the Web.

I spoke on a panel at Mashup Camp recently on why Ajax Standards matter. I was quoted by Doug Henschen of Intelligent Enterprise as saying that we are locked in a struggle for the soul of the web, so I thought I would expand on that theme.

Just because the web has been open so far doesn't mean that it will stay that way. By open, I mean that content has been searchable, linkable and servable without paying fees.

Flash and Silverlight, arguably the two market-leading technology toolkits for rich media applications are not open. You cannot search Flash content, you cannot link to it and if you want to serve up flash content on your web site, you need to pay for a server license.

If the future of the web lies in rich media and if these trends continue, we may well see a very different world emerge from Web 2.0.

More importantly, Flash and Silverlight work by installing a proprietary plug-in to your browser, thus opting out of the entire browser infrastructure. If you are a plug-in vendor, your incentive is to keep the browser as dumb as possible.

The worse the underlying browser is at rendering rich widgets and media, the more developers and users will want your plug-in. If you are both the vendor of a browser (say IE) as well as the proponent of a plug-in (say Silverlight), then the incentives get truly twisted.

WaveMaker has a big stake in this debate because we chose to build our WYSIWYG development tools on top of the Dojo Toolkit. We picked Dojo because WaveMaker is targeting enterprise developers who need not just nice color pickers but also sortable and pageable grids, solid internationalization and accessibility capabilities.

Ajax standards groups like the Open Ajax Alliance (under the leadership of Jon Ferraiolo)serve a important role today in helping to highlight the differences between open solutions like Dojo and proprietary solutions. They also are helping to drive the maturity of open Ajax toolkits by focussing attention on important areas like security and internationalization.

Microsoft was the rendering engine for client/server, which paid them enormous dividends. Microsoft IE was somewhat accidentally the victor in rendering engine for Web 1.0 after Netscape fumbled their lead, although they were never really able to monetize this particular monopoly.

Make no mistake - Microsoft and Adobe aim to have their proprietary plug-ins, aka pseudo-browsers, become the rendering engines for the next generation of the Web. Without a strong push for open Ajax standards, they just might get their way.

 

More Stories By Christopher Keene

Christopher Keene is Chairman and CEO of WaveMaker (formerly ActiveGrid). He was the founder, in 1991, of Persistence Software, a San Mateo, CA-based company that created a new approach for managing data in high-transaction banking and communications systems. Persistence Software investors included Cisco, Intel, Reuters and Sun Microsystems. The company went public in 1999 on the NASDAQ exchange and was sold in 2004 to Progress software.

After leaving Persistence Software in 2005, Chris spent a year in France as chairman of Reportive Software, a Paris-based maker of business-intelligence tools, and as an adjunct professor and entrepreneur-in-residence at INSEAD, a leading graduate business school.

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Most Recent Comments
nni123 12/11/08 04:33:58 PM EST

You should also compare the framework which runs in Flash not the player per say. Otherwise we are lock in with browser limitation for so long.

Flex is Open Source SDK, BlazeDS is open source remoting service to connect to Java or use web service or HTTPService to connect with PHP, .Net, Python or Ruby.

Now Silverlight is not open source compare to Flex.

I mean one should comment read of learn something about market share but guess what you are from Ajax and DOJO toolkit which make RIA development nightmare..as simple as that

lerivin 12/10/08 12:07:13 PM EST

To extend on Brooks comments about Flash.

1. Flex, Adobe's application framework on top of Flash is an open source SDK bringing transparency and allowing the community to participate in it's future development.

2. Adobe has been working with Google to make flash searchable see http://www.adobe.com/devnet/flashplayer/articles/swf_searchability.html. This is not a complete solution since dynamic content will not be indexed correctly, but Ajax applications also have the same issue. To say Ajax applications that rely on dynamic content driven via JavaScript and XHR requests are searchable is completely wrong.

3. Using Flex's history management system, Flash content can be deeplinkable. Ajax application have the same issue as Flash applications and also have to rely on a framework that tricks the browser's history management system. Flex under the cover relies on an ajax based solution.

brooksandrus 11/29/08 05:15:57 PM EST

Wow, there's a ton of FUD in this article.

Let's start at the top.

1) You absolutely do not need a server license to deploy Flash content. A plugin (client-side) is required, but nothing is required on the server.

2) You can produce Flash content for free with Adobe's open source Flex SDK or with the open source MTASC Flash compiler.

3) Adobe open sourced and donated the Tamarin virtual machine to the Mozilla foundation. This code (135,000 lines) is a critical component of the next-gen TraceMonkey engine that will power Firefox 4.

4) Adobe has also made the Flash SWF, FLV and F4V file formats freely available to the public (allowing third parties to create content that targets the Flash Player runtime).

5) Adobe has committed to and delivered feature parity across Mac, Windows and Linux machines. That's a platform neutral commitment that when combined with their open-source and open standard initiatives makes it pretty easy to connect the dots.

Those are the facts. I'll let readers reach their own conclusions.