The Problem with the Web16 Feb 2009
In “Why Chrome is Shiny,” Jonathan Edwards does a wonderful job of articulating the vague misgivings that I've had about the current rush of interest in web applications:
I have realized that Internet browsers are a dead end, much like MS-DOS was... Some examples of these problems:
- No multithreading
- Reference counting GC, causing memory leaks
- Only 2 outgoing TCP sockets, and only to same site as URL
- Whole-page rendering, making dynamic layout changes unpleasant
- DOM incompatibilities
- Event firing and handling incompatibilities
- Limited standard libraries, and poor support for large-scale programming
All of this reminds me very much of MS-DOS. Like the browser, it was essentially a toy that was not originally intended to be used for anything serious or intense. Hackers came in and discovered they could do all sorts of things beyond those original intentions, and that they could get rich in the process. In the resulting gold rush there was no time to worry about fixing the platform. MS-DOS willfully ignored the existing body of knowledge about how to design an operating system.
In spite of all of the problems with web development, it's the best (only?) method we've found of writing cross-platform, zero-deployment, sandboxed apps that can share data where needed and access data from anywhere. These are valuable features.
What should be done about the problems with web development? Silverlight might have the right idea, but I prefer my web without vendor lock-in. One approach (apparently favored by Edwards in "Why Chrome is Shiny") is to use a platform like the Google Web Toolkit or haXe to build on top of the current web platform and (hopefully) hide many of its shortcomings. At the very least, I figure we should be aware of the problems of the current technology craze and be a bit cautious of jumping on the bandwagon. That's good advice for technology in general.