One of the things we take for granted about the web development explosion of the past ten years is the opening up of software-building to a far broader population than your classically-trained computer engineers. Graphic designers, information designers, your generally curious tech-savvy computer hacker. They all got to play in this new playground. It didn’t require JBuilder or Visual Studio. All it required was notepad, maybe some graphic editing tools, and you were on your way. It was this strange, new place where content and presentation very much drove the building process – often times dominating it.
I’ve often written on this blog about the limitations of the Web to deliver richer, more interactive experiences. I’ve asserted that, eventually, there would be a move away from this clumsy, page-based model. Almost two years ago, Ajax caught on and richer, more interactive experiences began debuting in web browsers. At Arc90, we leverage Ajax techniques to enhance key portions of the user experience. More recently, we’ve invested in Adobe’s Flash and Flex technologies to deliver richer applications over the wire.
As this migration away from the static web continues and continues to get validated, other players are throwing their hats into the ring. Microsoft has introduced Silverlight (effectively an Adobe Flash competitor) and just yesterday, Sun has taking another crack at it with JavaFX (their earlier attempts to penetrate the rich client space were unequivocal failures).
Each of these platforms have their pluses and minuses. And as we assess this or that platform we’re left with an oddly empty feeling: what is all this stuff?
We knew we were going to have to pay a price for all that richness, but I fear the entire industry is going to pay a price. Here’s where my fears lie:
- Pick Your Platform. With all these proprietary technologies being pitched, developers are being forced to pick their platform for rich web development. Rather than a single, agreed-upon set of standards, we’ve now got three (or four, or five).
- What Of The Designers? You can’t help but worry about those designer/front-end production people out there. They’re no confronted with this whole new set of expectations. Not only is software richer, but the ways to make it richer just got a lot more complicated. Furthermore, there are now pre-requisites to getting going. In the past, you needed notepad (or some replacement. Today, you need an IDE like Flex Builder or Microsoft Expression. The pick-up-and-build aspect of the web is being threatened.
- Bring Back Ugly, Ubiquitous Interfaces One of the web’s flaws was a blessing in disguise. Because there never existed a formal forms model or strict interface guidelines, you saw a great explosion in both graphic and interface creativity. Now that various players are pre-packaging interfaces, I fear that we’re about to see a wave of awful looking windows forms hit the web as armies of VB developers start hacking together Silverlight applications. This point is related to the previous one: if we leave the designers out of the picture, we can’t combat this.
In my next post, I’ll talk about some of the things Adobe and Microsoft (and others) can do to help us (all of us, the designers and lesser-skilled web developers) get there quicker and be more effective in this new arena.