Monday, March 31st, 2008

Saving Ourselves From the Unweb

Category: Dojo

Alex Russell gave the inaugural presentation at the Visual Ajax User Group held in the bay area recently. He presented on saving ourselves from the unweb and Chris Keene, CEO of WaveMaker Software, wrote up the talk for us all to read.

Alex laid out choices for evolving the Web:

We are reaching a fork in the road, however, where the web’s traditional strengths may be dramatically eroded by a “hollowing out” of the HTML semantics. There are basically two responses to this challenge of evolving the web. They are:

  1. Evolve HTML = Better Semantics, Smarter Clients. Evolve the existing web by pushing browser vendors to add semantic HTML capabilities that support next generation web apps. This allows for the web to remain a collaborative community that preserves the advantages which the web has traditionally enjoyed even sa it transitions to handle new tasks.
  2. Hollow out HTML = the “Un-web”. Abandon HTML and replace it with a powerful but proprietary alternative like Adobe Flex or Microsoft Silverlight. Let’s call this the Un-web, as it carves out walled gardens which will curtail the web’s traditional openness.

The web needs to evolve to support building the Rich Internet Applications that people want to use. At the same time, web tools need to evolve to be able to handle the increasing complexity of building these apps.

He then showed how Dojo 1.1 can play in a way that layers semantics on top of the usual HTML. He showed the Dojo Grid as an example:

  1. <span DOJOTYPE=""
  2. JSID=" csvStore"  URL=" names.csv" >
  3. </span>
  5. <table DOJOTYPE=" dojox.grid.Grid"
  6. STORE=" csvStore"  QUERY=" { Title: '*' }"  CLIENTSORT=" true"
  7. STYLE=" width: 800px; height: 300px;" >
  8.  <thead>
  9.   <tr>
  10.    <th WIDTH=" 300px"  FIELD=" lastName" > Last</th>
  11.    <th FIELD=" firstName" > First</th>
  12.   </tr>
  13.  </thead>
  14. </table>

Finally, the call out:

The key to the web’s future is real competition between the browser vendors that will force them to evolve the browser quickly. These features include:

  • Auto update capabilities
  • 3-d rendering
  • Support for new semantics in HTML
  • In short, give us native ability within the browser to do what we otherwise have to do in Javascript libraries

What we know is that we have never gotten good browser enhancements and tools from the market leader. So now you know what you need to do to save the web – download and use the underdog web browser and give it all the love you can ;-)

Posted by Dion Almaer at 5:16 am

4.1 rating from 17 votes


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it just takes a widespread support for HTML+JS+SVG and we have our own open Flash platform ;) (oh – and I forgot too mention a lot of work….)

This may seem like a far off idea now, with all those nifty features and components of Flash (or Express) – but from standards perspective, SVG has everything it should need – besides a fast, reliable and of course crossplatform implementation….

Comment by OndraM — March 31, 2008

What we know is that we have never gotten good browser enhancements and tools from the market leader. So now you know what you need to do to save the web – download and use the underdog web browser and give it all the love you can ;-)

Seems the author forgot which browser gave us the XHR object first.

Comment by AMA3 — March 31, 2008

I tried to save us (ref; ) but got so much bad attention (read the comments) that I didn’t dare to continue… :|

Comment by polterguy — March 31, 2008

I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot because I (like many people) love the open web and hate to see us go down the road of the “un-web”. However, I have to admit that the gap between ajax and these new technologies is pretty big. Recently, there has been a pretty significant push to move the web forward. HTML 5, JavaScript 2, Acid 3 are all signs of good things to come. But will it come fast enough? Will it be cross-browser enough? And even if it happens, will it be good enough? In theory, the broad spectrum of technologies (html 5, css 3, js 2,svg) can do most of what Flex can do, but its also about the packaging. Flex has a lot more polish. It has a clear solution on uniting the parts to get a cohesive product. It is guaranteed to work the same in all supported environments. There are a lot of positives there.

In the end my thought is this. Is there a way to fight fire with fire? If Flex/Silverlight/JavaFX threaten the open web, is there a way to compete on the same playing field. If the w3c technologies can’t compete, can we take a different route. I propose that one very real solution to the problem would be to create an open source plugin technology to compete. It would allow a few things. First of all, it could ignore backwards compatibility because there would be nothing to be compatible to. Secondly, the cross browser issue would be resolved by being a competing plugin. The sky would be the limit.

Of course, the roadmap would be to hopefully merge the technology back into the standard, but there’s no time to start there. Besides, it would be a great testing ground before making a standard. I only wish I had the time and knowledge to do it myself!

Comment by genericallyloud — March 31, 2008

Its not much, but I created a google group as a place to discuss the possibility of a plugin competitor.

Comment by genericallyloud — March 31, 2008

“Evolve the existing web by pushing browser vendors to add semantic HTML capabilities that support next generation web apps. ”

I’m all for that. Well said.

Comment by Mark Holton — March 31, 2008

I don’t think an open source plugin will be the answer. (just look at gnash, it works pretty good on *some* things, but just can’t keep up with flash). Then there’s the problem of penetration. The flash (or gnash) plugin is already on everyone’s computer. A new open source plugin would have to start from scratch.

I quite like the middle ground answer: Compatibility layers. Implement the new html5 application features now, using plain javascript, and where javascript isn’t powerful enough, use the flash plugin. The code you build will all be Web applications 1.0, with video tags and audio tags galore, and with a simple it would all work. Then when it gets implemented in browser, the page silently and smoothly swaps over to using the native browser implementation.

Comment by Breton — March 31, 2008

The un-web? What the hell? Guys, Flex and Silverlight are not going to take over the web. They have their place, but they are not going to replace traditional HTML/Ajax. Did Flash replace JavaScript? No. So what’s so different about Flex and Silverlight? It’s not the apocalypse, so stop complaining about it.

Comment by musicfreak — March 31, 2008


Gnash is a bad example because the format which they’re chasing is controlled by a single vendor with foreknowledge of its evolution. Should gnash do something new and/or different, it wouldn’t matter to a statistically significant amount of Flash content (which is a good way to figure out if a single vendor has control).

Gears, OTOH, has a viable solution to the distribution issue (see today’s Google Docs announcement). Starting from scratch *is* a real problem, but it’s assailable (otherwise why would MSFT be trying w/ Silverlight?).


Comment by slightlyoff — March 31, 2008

polterguy: You asked for the bad attention. The reason you got so much is because your argument was completely biased towards Adobe, and most of your points were not valid. You made it seem like Flex is an evil thing, when it’s not. And of course, you got all the Flex developers jumping at you.

Comment by musicfreak — March 31, 2008


MSIE introduced the XHR ActiveX object in IE 5.0. See:


The precipitous rise of MSIE was still underway at that point, and it wasn’t yet clear that Netscape was no longer on top. More to the point, when IE 5 went into development, IE *wasn’t* on top.

The timing of when things happened is as instructive as who did them since it speaks to motivating factors, not simply outcomes.


Comment by slightlyoff — March 31, 2008

Are you suggesting that MSIE owes its market domination to XHR?

Comment by AMA3 — March 31, 2008

@genericallyloud: This is exactly what we are trying to do with Gears :) Ping me to find out how we can work together to make this happen. brad++neuberg atat (remove the ++ and replace the atat).

Brad Neuberg

Comment by BradNeuberg — April 1, 2008

Maybe I’m missing something, but aren’t these capabilities already provided by OpenLaszlo. Its declarative markup language is open source and supports all of today’s popular browsers, plus Flash. Additionally, its architecture is designed to be extensible to support other popular future platforms such as SilverLight? Why re-invent the wheel?

Norman Klein
Laszlo in Action

Comment by NormanKlein — April 2, 2008


Not at all. Simply noting that the IE team was significantly incented by healthy competition to churn out all manner of great things in that timeframe. You brought up a non-apropos example and I responded…that’s all.


Comment by slightlyoff — April 2, 2008

Nice to see that we kicked off a spirited debate ;-)

If you are interested in upcoming Visual Ajax webinars, please go to

Comment by ctkeene — April 2, 2008

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