On embracing the web

HTML is not the Holy Grail

There were a few talks at GUADEC that were around the topic of web and trying to figure out ways to build bridges to the web world from the GNOME community and technologies.

It was praised by some, most notably Luis Villa, that HTML/CSS/JS was the way to go. However I think that this is grabbing the stick from the wrong end in many ways.

The interesting parts of the web are not its front end technologies as such (the fact that they are standards and you can assume everybody has a browser is though). The interesting bit of the Web as a platform is the ability to syndicate, publish and aggregate content.

I actually think that the so called fact that people love HTML+CSS+JS is sort of a myth. The reason there's so many people doing stuff with it is not because it is a great technology, it's because:

  • You can reach a huge user base deploying a web app
  • It has a lean learning curve

People go through the pain of building apps with these technologies because it's worth the pain, and actually, for a lot of applications it's the better option. But it's still a pain.

However, suggesting that this is how GNOME should move ahead is in my opinion not the fastest path to provide a great user experience. Which is what GNOME is all about.

It's all about the data!

In my opinion, what we really fail at is at providing tools to create rich user experiences for data driven applications, and ways to feed data from the web more specifically. This has a lot to do with the poorness of our platform when it comes to ways to talk HTTP, libsoup for example is not such a great API for application developers for many reasons.

Then there's Gtk+'s lack of proper views for large datasets and GtkTreeModel is not necessarily a general purpose data model API. This is why, by the way, we developed libmodel at Codethink and created a GtkTreeModel wrapper around it.

I think the ones really pioneering in this field are the Intel guys with libsocialweb and Adrien Bustany on online providers for Tracker. But we still miss the "glue" for our great front end technologies (Gtk+/Clutter/MX) so that application developers can put together apps consuming and pushing online data real quick.

The browser is nice and all but…

There is a reason why Google, one of the main pushers of the web
technologies, still have Java based apps in the android platform. There is a reason flash is not going away and Silverlight and JavaFx are here to stay as well. The
closer you are to the hardware, the better the user experience can be. The quicker you can put together your apps, the better.

Pushing the boundaries of HTML is a nice thing and I'm happy to see Flash, Silverlight and JavaFx going away as substitutes of content that could be deployed as web content in the first place, but innovation and design by committee are not real good friends. We need a platform that can move as quick as hardware does, as much as we need a web platform as well that can cherry pick the innovations

Opportunities for collaboration, our friends from Mozilla

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There is however a huge opportunity for the GNOME community, if we start making steps towards a better toolchain for data driven applications, I think building bridges with the Mozilla community can be a major win. I know what you're thinking, Gecko. No, I actually think WebKit is the way to go as our rendering engine, Gecko is there to follow Firefox's agenda. Fair enough.

There's a space in which building bridges with the Mozilla community can be even a biggest win for both ends, the web services space. Mozilla is creating amazing web services and tools, Firefox Sync, Bespin, Contacts.

GNOME seriously lacks of a community of people dedicated to build web services around the platform, and Mozilla is has that sort of focus. Together I think we can join forces solve this ongoing problem of closed source web services and all the privacy concerns around them by building a truly rich and open ecosystem of server and client side technologies.

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