DHTML Take-off ?

DHTML is taking off because the Web API and Interface is having a second wind and prospering in the drive to open, cross platform and application stack integrated and interoperable systems. And the cause of the Web API resurgence is three fold. First, mobile and handhelds are converging over being Internet connected. There are nearly three times as many mobile phones than PC desktops in the world today. Second, Bill Gates information at your fingertips is a leading IT imperative as organizations strive to take advantage of being able to deliver and transact business anytime, anyplace on any device. Third, despite having set the agenda, Bill Gates pit bull tactics on the PC desktop has created a decidedly tilted playing field and so developers are going elsewhere – namely back to the server, out to mobiles or handhelds and onto the Web API and interface where open and interoperable levels the playing field. Also Bills Zero Sum Strategy – in order to achieve the market dominance 0f 70-90% that guarantees Microsofts 60-80% gross margins – dictates an “I win means you must lose” eradication of all competitors with any survivor dutifully notified how and why they are allowed to subsist. This assures that Redmond is the pariah partner from Hello No.9 for most contemporary ISVs. Steve promised to change all that …. so they now have made the subsistence partnership rules of engagement official – its called “Innovation Integration”.

DHTML at Microsofts Mercy ?

Unfortunately, Microsofts pariah status as business partner has major consequences for the IT industry in general and DHTML in particular. Because Microsoft under Bills leadership is so mistrusted, whenever Bill says “we are going to get rid of spam” or “Microsoft is going to eliminate Spyware and Phishing” – the immediate reaction is “what self-serving scheme does Redmond have up it sleeves?”. IT community reactions to Passport and Palladium are examples.

So Bill and Steves “We aint misbehavin” also has a large impact on DHTML because despite having arguably the worst and most insecure browser on the market (through no fault of the developers – they sit in their offices in handcuffs and straitjackets and are only let out to fix security problems); IE continues to garner 90%++ market share. So if Microsoft says “Boo” (and they did in a proposed draconian”fix to IE” for the Eolas patents), the whole of the IT industry cringes.

Now can you imagine what Redmond has conjured up for the Longhorn version of IE ? You will have to use your imagination because despite gushing forth with every possible detail about Longhorn but one, Redmond is keeping pristinely mum about that one – what IE is going to look like in Longhorn. Absolutely mum – go see what Dave Massy and the IE Team are allowed to say about the Longhorn version of IE.

So there is still a good deal of uncertainty about the viability of DHTML and the Web API because Microsoft controls the browser** and its fate with continued 90%++ market share. And Microsoft makes no secret about preferring the Windows OS Desktop and thick clients (now dubbed Smart Clients) over thin(the Web browser API). Watch for clues to the Microsoft attitude toward DHTML with the following cases:
1)Microsoft support for and implementation of JavaScripts E4X extensions which considerably simplify XML processing in JavaScript;
2)Visual Studio and Front Page support for an opt-in-to-strict W3C standards switch;
3)JScript.NET in Visual Studio 2005 – does it remain first class ? Does it acquire new, proprietary extensions? Does it support a stick-to-standards as above ?
4)Front Page and Visual Studio – do they improve CSS, HTML, DOM, and XML standards support;
5)Microsoft support for extending DOM to enable tabbed and tilable browser windows;
6)Microsoft promotion of XEN, a new rival scripting language to JavaScript- how well it respects DOM, CSS, XML-DOM programming models ? How many proprietary extensions it has ?
7)Microsoft support for multimedia libraries like Adobe PDF and Flash SWF in JScript and .NET.
If you sample Microsoft blogs there is a clear thrust toward Smart Clients and a distinct ambiguity towards ASP.NET which is thin client WebForms based and still a major user of JScript. The following from SimpleGeek.com is typical: “The crowd was already pretty pro-smart clients, with probably 3/4 the developers targeting Windows Forms, while less than 1/2 were doing ASP.NET – definitely a different mix than other conferences. It was refreshing!”
So expect the pendulum to swing away from the DHTML and the Web Browser interface – but how fast and draconian is anyones guess.

DHTML Attractions

Despite the growing clouds of Redmond scorn for DHTML, the JavaScript language and DOM spec have strong appeal. Brendan Eich and the Netscape developers do not get the credit due for designing a language at least as brilliant as James Goslings Java. Heaven knows that getting the trade-offs between ease of development versus power/functionality, interactive development versus speed of operation, adequate security versus operational convenience, OO completeness versus OO simplicity and so on is no easy task. Just consider the many scripting languages from hits like Perl, PHP, Python, Rexx, and Ruby to the hundreds of also rans – and one can see that getting the balance right is no small achievement.

And ISVs and developers have spoken. Despite the vigorous challenge of VBScript in ASP.NET JScript/JavaScript has won developers allegiance. Other major ISVs have adopted JavaScript and DHTML as critical parts of their offerings. BEA, Lotus, Sun use DHTML in their development environs. For example, Suns new Java Studio Creator supports a whole set of JavaScript properies in its convenient visual design tool – one of the nicest marriages of Java and JavaScript this developer has seen. But Adobe is not to be outdone – its new Acrobat Designer 6 environ integrates JavaScript with XML, PDF, and forms processing in novel and convenient ways. And Macromedias Flash programming language, ActionScript has been updated closer to the JavaScript latest standard with its new ActionScript 2 which powers the new Flex rich client development environ.

Both DHTML and JavaScript, because they are available on all three major desktop platforms (Windows all versions, Unix/Linux, Apple Mac OS) are seeing a surgence of use as a crossplatform macro language – a viable replacement to VBA. Mozilla started the trend with development of Mozilla XUL – which demonstrated DHTML as being a broad application development tool. Macromedia then started using JavaScript as internal macro language for their Dreamweaver and Fireworks applications. Adobe followed with JavaScript macros in GoLive and now many of its tools: Photoshop, Illustrator, Atmosphere etc. And these vendors are not alone as dozens of ISVs are adopting JavaScript as a macro language using tools from Trolltech, Mozilla and others.

So DHTML and JavaScript are seeing a renaissance; but its overall success is undoubtedly threatened by the at best ambiguous and at worst Machiavellian attitude of Microsoft. However, this party suspects that the substantial benefits of DHTML and JavaScript both as cross platform Web development tool and macro language will help to defend DHTML from any hostility from the Pacific Northwest.

**Comment on “Microsoft controls the browser”
It nevers ceases to amaze me why major ISVs like Adobe, IBM, Oracle, SAP, SAS, and dozens of others who are so dependent on an open, standards based Web API dont put quiet but concerted pressure on Microsoft to bring their browser up to date on DOM, HTML, ECMAScript, CSS and other standards in as forceful a manner as possible. As co-members of W3C, ECMA, and other standards bodies, with their own development tools dependent on good adherence to these standards and their own internal IT shops and consulting groups having to do needless work arounds because of IE and other Redmond standards mischief – you would think…

Ditto for major corporations like Citibank, Exxon/Mobil, GM, Unilever, Walmart and a Fortune 1000 others whose IT staffs have to add 20-40% more time to web development efforts because they have to avoid proprietary IE extensions plus forgo or code workarounds to IEs CSS, DOM, and other DHTML shortcomings .

Ditto for you, dear reader. There are 9 chances in 10 that you are reading this in IE (I know this from my weblogs) despite the fact that Firefox, Opera and Safari are more secure, less virus prone, have way more features and can be installed in less than 5 minutes. So try one – all it will cost you is about 5 minutes, 4.5MB of diskspace, and the notion you cant do anything about these issues. In return you will get a more secure, reliable, faster, popup blocking, download managing, tabbed interfacing, virus and spyware blocking, RSS supporting, bookmark easing … a much better browser. And just keep IE around if you must to please the boss.