Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

Progress Is N+1

Category: Browsers, Gears, IE

Alex Russell isn’t talking about the N+1 select problem when he references the Joel Spolsky piece on IE 8.

We want to applaud the IE 8 team for the work that they have done, but also keep pushing to make sure that it really happens:

I was reminded of a discussion last Friday where I voiced my frustration that as much as IE 8 looks to be a good point release, we know next to nothing about it’s intentions with regards to ship dates or auto-update deployment. I’m not talking exact dates or firm plans here, just “within the next N months” or “we’ll wait N (plus or minus 3) months to put it on Windows Update”. Knowing those things fill in the missing bits of making any plans around IE. No plan is complete without a “who”, a “how”, and a “when”. Right now we’ve got the first two bits (ish), but the third is a mystery….which means we don’t have a collective plan.

By the transitive property of IE being the monopoly market-share browser, we can clearly state that we have no idea when the Open Web will be revved. This is based solely on the IE team’s lack of commitments. This is a terrible result, and one which I think the frenzy over IE 8’s features has obscured.

He then talks about the browser platform:

Which brings us back to IE being a platform. The bits that webdevs care about must change in order for the web to get better, and today webdevs are platform customers without a commitment from their biggest supplier to ship another version beyond the one they’re working on now. If this were any other sort of platform, this would never ever fly. Code-in-escrow would be demanded along with a roadmap, or at a minimum a commitment to an N+1 version in a reasonable time frame. But webdevs don’t have that leverage by virtue of the disintermediation that browser economics now demand.

So as webdevs, we must be canny enough to find a way to “better” which doesn’t put all of our eggs in any particular basket. Every browser that we depend on either needs an open development process or it needs to have a public plan for N+1. The goal is to ensure that the market knows that there is momentum and a vehicle+timeline for progress. When that’s not possible or available, it becomes incumbent on us to support alternate schemes to rev the web faster.

And, how all web developers can push forward with projects like Gears:

Google Gears is our best hope for this right now, and at the same time as we’re encouraging browser venders to do the right thing, we should also be championing the small, brave Open Source team that is bringing us a viable Plan B. Every webdev should be building Gear-specific features into their app today, not because Gears is the only way to get something in an app, but because in lieu of a real roadmap from Microsoft, Gears is our best chance at getting great things into the fabric of the web faster. If the IE team doesn’t produce a roadmap, we’ll be staring down a long flush-out cycle to replace it with other browsers. The genius of Gears is that it can augment existing browsers instead of replacing them wholesale. Gears targets the platform/product split and gives us a platform story even when we’re neglected by the browser vendors.

Gears has an open product development process, an auto-upgrade plan, and a plan for N+1.

At this point in the webs evolution, I’m glad to see browser vendors competing and I still feel like that’s our best long-term hope. But we’ve been left at the altar before, and the IE team isn’t giving us lots of reasons to trust them as platform vendors (not as product vendors). For once, we have an open, viable Plan B.

Disclaimer: I work on the Gears team!

Posted by Dion Almaer at 9:45 am
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[Cross-posted from Alex’s blog]

Alex, great post. This is why I joined Google and the Gears team. I believe in the open web and see Gears as a very clever solution to help get us out of the impasse we are all in as web devs. I’d like to look back five years from now and see how we, as a community, constructed an open source update mechanism for the web that cuts cross-browser and cross-platform, giving us leverage to move the web forward and rev it much faster than we have now. Gears is the closest to this we have today. As we say in open source, code rules, so drop on by Gears and contribute Gears modules that make this happen (http://gears.google.com). Want to see better 2D vector graphics show up cross browser that you can use today? Bake one into Gears.

Just in case you don’t know about Gears or what it has today here’s some more info:

Gears is an open source plug-in that teaches current web browsers new tricks. Gears is a clever way to raise the bar cross-browser and cross-platform, today, running inside of Firefox and Internet Explorer on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. No more waiting years for features to show up across all browsers and platforms. APIs include: A real embedded relational database (SQLite) for web sites; client-side full text search; threads for JavaScript; offline web applications; secure and fast cross-domain mashups; desktop shortcuts; mobile devices; and more.

Comment by BradNeuberg — March 26, 2008

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