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Enter the "Reign of RIA 3rd"

I would like to continue to express my point of view around Google Chrome. First of all, I would like to say that it looks really nice! The performances are incredible but they are just the mean that Google used to reach their goal.

I saw all around very many articles and comments where the accent is always put on the fact that Chrome is the way in which Google is attacking the power of IE8. chrome-1
I think that this is a partial view of what Chrome could actually represent in today’s scenario. In my opinion, Google has chosen to enter the RIA war in a very wise way.

By reading the comic book that introduces Chrome, I was hit by few things:

  1. the accent is always on the the term application, as opposed to “web pages”.
    The starting point, which is consistently reinforced everywhere in the comic book, is always the fact that Google wants to address the need of supporting Applications (delivered over the web).
  2. the book stresses the use that Chrome makes of Gears.
  3. Chrome embeds a mode where one can associate a real “windows application” to a given “application executed over the web”.
    Even if this looks similar to what the Mozilla Prism technology did….
  4. Each tab is executed in its own shell
  5. Javascript is executed in its own Virtual machine

What are those things telling me? 
In my opinion they are telling that Google has decided to create a platform where applications delivered over the web can be executed fast, securely and offline. And this without changing the way in which those applications have been created so far (AJAX). (see what I just posted earlier on this subject)

Whilst Firefox and IE position themselves in the playground of general-purpose browsers, Chrome chooses to target the support of the new generation of Applications delivered over the web (ensuring, of course, a backward compatibility with the legacy of the web, i.e. the “web pages”). This is a big revolution;  Google decided to break the politeness game, where Microsoft and “the others” actually have chosen to improve the experience (of using a browser) without changing the scope (and, thus, keeping the constraints).

Of course, this was not done accidentally, or because of the simple evolution of the technology (even if, from this point of view, what I have tried since when I first downloaded Chrome is simply remarkable!).
All the toys that Google gave us in the last years actually needed something more that what a general-purpose browser was providing. More precisely: Google Gears deserved a more coherent and robust environment! Chrome becomes a container for applications delivered over the web!

In the long term, we think of Chromium as a tabbed window manager or shell for the web rather than a browser application. We avoid putting things into our UI in the same way you would hope that Apple and Microsoft would avoid putting things into the standard window frames of applications on their operating systems … The tab is our equivalent of a desktop application’s title bar; the frame containing the tabs is a convenient mechanism for managing groups of those applications. In future, there may be other tab types that do not host the normal browser toolbar. (see the User Experience Section on Chromium)

Adobe moved to AIR from Flex. Microsoft moved to Silverlight from WPF.
Google has delivered a platform for AJAX. They went beyond the browser, in a way that grants the continuity of the legacy web.

To Google, the browser has become a weak link in the cloud system – the needle’s eye through which the outputs of the company’s massive data centers usually have to pass to reach the user – and as a result the browser has to be rethought, revamped, retooled, modernized. Google can’t wait for Microsoft or Apple or the Mozilla Foundation to make the changes (the first has mixed feelings about promoting cloud apps, the second is more interested in hardware than in clouds, and the third, despite regular infusions of Google bucks, lacks resources), so Google is jump-starting the process with Chrome. (see The cloud’s Chrome lining)

Have you tried to transform Gmail into an application using Chrome? What does it tell?
Now, let’s imagine Google Documents…. and all the other tens of goodies that we were shipped regularly, in a “Beta forever” format by Google…

  • It is an explicit attempt to accelerate the movement of computing off the desktop and into the cloud — where Google holds advantage.
  • Google hopes to kick-start a new generation of Web-based applications that will truly make Microsoft’s worst nightmare a reality: The browser will become the equivalent of an operating system.
  • The clearest expression of this comes when you drag a tab containing a Web application like Gmail to its own separate window and specify that you want an “app shortcut.” At that point, the tabs, buttons, and address bars fall away and the Web app looks pretty much like a desktop app. Welcome to the cloud era.

(see Inside Chrome: The Secret Project to Crush IE and Remake the Web)

I think that Chrome may represent the platform by which Google will establish a new way to consume the Web:

  • at home, of course.
    You will use the Google (web) Applications as applications, in the way in which you are used to use Outlook Express, Word, Excel, MSN
  • in the enterprise. Also !
    You do not have to look in your bookmarks to access the URL that points to your application… You just execute the applications which, accidentally, are delivered over the web but are more and more executed locally (via Gears)

To say this synthetically:

“Any desktop application that has not been implemented in the browser is now going to be implemented in the browser,” Andreessen said. (see What Netscape’s Founder Thinks About the New Google Browser )

When I was speaking about AJAX in the last few years, I remember I often quoted a sentence that said “AJAX means that Javascript now works…“.  What I see with Chrome is that “Chrome means that AJAX (and, thus, Javascript), becomes a full-fledged platform for building local applications“. See it? There is no issue here of sharing the same (j)VM because of resource consumption. The scope is more manageable (certainly less powerful) and, thus, it does not cost anything to start a new application with its own VM.

Google Chrome features a new JavaScript engine, V8, that has been designed for performance from the ground up. In particular, we wanted to remove some common bottlenecks that limit the amount and complexity of JavaScript code that can be used in Web applications. (see Google Chrome’s Need for Speed)

Yes, I am enthusiast. Strange for me when talking about Google! But it is true. I like it. I like what I see.
Some other consideration:

  • Hey, Chrome is a browser that does not ask you to become your “default browser” !
    Very nice, indeed.
  • Chrome may become a Bootable Browser.
    A bootable Chrome-based platform could very well put an end to PC tune-up problems for masses of people. ” (see Is Google’s Chrome browser a Windows killer?)
  • It will be interesting when the Resource Model will be published, in order to really create applications on it

I am now expecting one other step.
I am expecting that Google creates a Declarative Language for easily creating the applications that will be executed by Chrome. After all, in the comic book, they talk about the fact that the team that created the VM is actually able to create a VM for virtually any language. Right ? At runtime, one flavor or the other of the VM can be loaded if the activation cost is so cheap and if the resource consumption is so low.

I think these properties will rapidly make V8 the dominant VM for dynamic languages… the release of the V8 VM is the beginning of a whole new era for dynamic languages (Smalltalk, Ruby, Python, etc).  (see Chrome and V8)

Last, but not least:

And another thing Google did well here was in not trying to over-engineer their explanations of highly technical processes. They simplified their message down to bare essentials, and I felt enlightened after reading this document. Most technical documentation talks down to people, assuming that all the basics are already understood. Google removed some barriers to entry by explaining their new technologies in a way that almost anyone with a little technical know-how can understand. This is something almost every other open source project out there fails at. Technical documentation is far more than simply documentation…it’s an implicit invitation to take part in the experience.At the end of the day, I’m really impressed at the quality of this documentation. I actually read the entire thing, which is much more than I can say about the technical documentation for any other software I use. Who knew that I could find the difference between multiple threads and multiple processes interesting?  (see Google Chrome’s Design Comic )

One word of caution. Page 9 and Page 10 of the Google Comic Book. When they describe the way in which they test Chrome by using the massive cache they have on the internet! Unfair ! And, once again, showing the disproportionate power that Google (as a company) has on today’s Internet.

Before going on, let me explain the title of this post. Napoleon 3rd was, according to the Wikipedia article, “the first President of the French Republic and the only emperor of the Second French Empire. He holds the unusual distinction of being both the first titular president and the last monarch of France.
Much like Chrome, which could be the last browser but, perhaps, the first element of a different kind

The Struggle for the Sould of the Web

Very interesting article, “The Struggle for the Soul of the Web” !
The author enforces the concept of the importance of Ajax standards (and, thus, the Open Ajax Alliance) as a mean to avoid that the web becomes the territory where proprietary solutions (see Flex and SilverLight) will flourish.

In developping his argument, on which I agree, the author makes an interesting statement:
More importantly, Flash and Silverlight work by installing a proprietary plug-in to your browser, thus opting out of the entire browser infrastructure. If you are a plug-in vendor, your incentive is to keep the browser as dumb as possible.
The worse the underlying browser is at rendering rich widgets and media, the more developers and users will want your plug-in. If you are both the vendor of a browser (say IE) as well as the proponent of a plug-in (say Silverlight), then the incentives get truly twisted.

In some way, what he says is very similar to what I have said since a while: we need a new generation of Browsers which are not constraining people from developping applications delivered through the web (see here and here and here for a summary of my opinion on this topic). In that sense, Chrome may be the start of an answer (unfortunately, I say, as it comes from Google instead than from the Open Source community…).
If we want to avoid the risk that Flex and Silverlight will dominate the Web, we need to address this kind of question, which can be summarized by what I found in this other article

We’re in a transition point between the Age of Web Apps and the Age of RIAs (in the web space, that is). And if you doubt that we’re at this transition point, or if you think that RIAs include web apps, ask yourself, does AJAX really give you “all the rich you need”?

Can AJAX really, as Jef Raskin famously stated [60], treat all user input as sacred? Is AJAX really the end all and be all of a Compelling User Experience? Or do we remember that applications used to run outside of a browser?

Of course, it is provoking. But the risk is quite present.

User as center of the Universe

I am slowly catching up with some articles I read and over which I wanted to comment. I am dealing with this one SOA needs RIA – Burton Group, because there are few sentences I liked and because it lacks, in my opinion, a proper “end”.

The Value Hierarchy of Web 2.0So, here are the quotes I liked most:

  • “We firmly believe the user experience needs to be a first level priority at the same level as SDLC, platform languages, SOA and security.”
  • “If the business depends on people and people depend on information technology, then the interface between people and information technology — the user interface — naturally has to be very good. If you have an ineffective user interface, you’re going to have a less effective organization.”
  • “…people are the platform. IT is ephemeral. It continues to change over time, but what does not change in business is that the quality of any organization depends on the quality of its workers.”
  • If developers think the goal of SOA is to provide agility in assembling loosely coupled Web services into an application that provides real-time sales data to managers and marketers, they are missing a key component in the Burton view:  “The idea is to make user experience the end goal of any IT initiative and not an afterthought.”

http://hinchcliffe.org/img/useruniversecenter.jpg

I, personally, subscribe to all the above statements. They remember me a very nice article I read a couple of years ago, from Dion Hinchcliffe, titled The Web2.0 Trinity: People, Data and Great Software. The pictures in this post are both taken from Dion’s article, and I use them consistently in my talks around Web2.0 and the evolution of Desktop technologies.

Going forward, there is another quote that my few readers may appreciate:

“We see the next step as RIAD, the rich Internet application desktop. Here you need to look at Adobe AIR, Google Gadgets, the Microsoft Widget Library, to see resident applications that provide you with a visual experience associated with RIA.”

This is even more close to what I have often written in my blog: moving beyond the browser (as we see it today) towards a mechanism where applications, delivered via the web, will be executed locally. GREAT !

What seems missing to me is the very last part of the article

In Burton’s view, the future of the UXP is in using Web widgets, portable chunks of code and gadgets, miniature objects that can be placed on a Web page to provide dynamic content.

With widgets and gadgets, real-time sales data is on the sales manager’s desktop without requiring him to do multiple click-throughs to find a table or chart, the Burton analyst said.

What I think is missing is the name to this approach, a name which already exists. It is called Mashups, isn’t it? What is needed is the possibility to define those widgets in a standard way and be able to mix and match them in different contexts: a Portal, a Mashup environment, a Rich Client, the desktop even….

How to be an instant Web me-2.0 developer

This article [1] [1] from Verity Stob [2] [2] at The Register [3] [3] made me laughing!  How true it is in many aspects.

I really liked it all, but I think I will use these two pictures in my next Web2.0 presentation to present the difference between Web1.0 and Web2.0:

Block diagram showing Web 1.0 program architecture Architecture diagram illustrating the confusion inherent in Web 2.0 applications

Of course, I was also laughing (and strongly agreeing) with those other comments:

  • Java Applets ?
    I bet Sun hopes that everybody had forgotten
  • Google Web Kit (GWT)
    Eughh! what were they thinking ?
  • Dojo
    Perhaps come back in a year, if they make a design environment to go with.

As to the last sentence on Dojo, I think that it is really something we may need to consider. We need to hide the complexity [4] [4] of Dojo behind some easy-to-use design environment which would make it possible for more people to enter the game.

Flex opensourced: the battle of the giants. Towards a new Rich Client?

So, just few days after Microsoft announced its SilverLight platform, Adobe answered making Flex an Open Source platform. I suggest you have a look at Scoble‘s page “Adobe opensources Flex“, especially for the two videos he recorded with some of the Adobe thinking heads.

Wow! How things are changing fast!

There is one consideration that I want to make here. Now, both Adobe and Microsoft have the following approach to their flagship UI technology:

Microsoft Adobe
Express – Entry Point SilverLight Flex
Full Product Vista –
Windows Presentation
Foundation
Apollo
  • An “entry point” offer, freely available or even Open Sourced, which paves the road to the flagship product.
  • In both cases, the technology behind is the same (MXML/ActionScript for Adobe and XAML for Microsoft). In both cases, the technology behind is Declarative!
  • In both cases, the Entry Point offer is helping making more popular, especially with developers, the technology, so that it can be more used as the basis for building applications using the Full Product version.
  • in both cases, the Entry Point makes a tactical use of the Browser (at least, in the Full Product version the browser is not playing the important role that we are used to)
  • in both cases, AJAX is used as a programming approach instead than as the overarching foundation.
  • SilverLight

    I have been reading about SilverLight, the new technology from Microsoft that has been labeled as the Flash-Killer.
    What I find interesting is that the positioning of SilverLight on respect to Windows Presentation Foundation (and Vista in general) from Microsoft seems, to me, very similar to the positioning of Flex with respect to Apollo from Adobe..

    It is very much another example of a client-side container that replaces the role played by the Browser so far. With this move, not only Microsoft provides container functuionalities inside the Operating System itself (WPF) but, also, provides an “express version” of it (SilverLight), which does not require Vista and that can work on the Mac.

    I am still unclear why Microsoft does not also target Linux. But, probably, there will be someone who will do on their behalf….

    AJAX second’s birthday. What’s next ?

    Today is AJAX’s second birthday, as this article remembers us.

    I remember when I started blogging on this topic. And, in all honesty, I have to admit that I got in love with AJAX when it happened. I liked very much the idea of building web applications that “last longer”, that provide a fluid experience to the user and that do not require additional plugins. At that time, in my previous team, we were trying to understand how things like Flex, OpenLaszlo and other technologies would impact the way in which our customers think to Web applications.

    Today, after two years and some posts… I changed my mind. I start thinking that AJAX has been artifically keeping the browser alive:

    • regardless of the merits of some of the AJAX technologies that were developed so far
    • beyond the excellents things we see around (more or less everywhere on the web, today! even if one of my favorites is still Zimbra)
    • despite the fact that the emergence of the Web2.0 phenomenon is certainly due to the availability of the AJAX technology (which made people caring of Web2.0 because they could immediately see the advantages)

    well, today I am more prone to think that AJAX represents the swan song of the “browser as a mean to execute applications delivered over the web“. The arguments that make me thinking that way have been often posted in this blog.

    In the previously mentioned article on AJAX Birthday, I think I agree with what Richard Monson-Haefel wrote:

    • While AJAX has set the world on fire and caused a renaissance in user experience, it’s not the best Rich Internet Application (RIA) technology available today.The technology, or “approach” as some like to say, suffers from serious problems….
    • ….The fact that AJAX has ignited a renewed interest in making the Web a much better user experience is to be applauded, but don’t confuse the hype around the technology with the basic facts about the strengths and weakness of AJAX compared to its counterparts…
    • ….Another area where AJAX really needs to advance is in terms of tooling…
    • …the number of code-level AJAX frameworks and APIs available today is ridiculous. At my last count (August 2006) there were something like 160 AJAX frameworks….
    • …Here is another problem with AJAX, it’s not very deep

    Ditto !

    Now, I would like to take this opportunity, AJAX’s birthday, to comment on an excellent article, Web 2.0 Re-examined, from Coach Wei, the founder of NexaWeb.

    One of the interesting concepts introduced by Coach Wei is the one of “Architecture of Partition“.

    The truth of the matter is that neither server centric nor client centric architecture is always appropriate. Unfortunately developers never had the flexibility to deciding the right architectural partition for their applications. Web 2.0 brings architectural partition flexibility to developers for the first time in history. With web 2.0, developers can partition the application in a way that is best appropriate for the application, rather than trying to fit into a pre-determined architecture. Some applications are best served by leaving only user interface and some UI logic on the client side. Some applications require all UI logic on the client side to deliver optimal result. For even more sophisticated applications, there is requirement to have a certain business logic and data on the client side as well. Web 2.0 technologies enable developers to decide how much computation stays on the client side and how much stays on the server side, delivering optimal results.

    Somehow, if “Architecture of Participation” represents an Usage Paradigm Shift, the “Architecture of Partition” represents a Technology Paradigm Shift.

    This Architecture of Partition is, actually, realized by means of the 3 components drawn by Coach Wei in the picture on the left.

    The way in which Coach Wei describes  the Application Client Container (ACC) has many of the points that I try to push since few months:

    1. ACC is stateful. A web browser is designed to be stateless … …but Applications are inherently stateful.
    2. ACC supports asynchronous interactions by default while browsers require careful developer coding to do so
    3. ACC can support offline computing while web 1.0 applications are online only
    4. ACC supports mobile computing as a first class citizen
    5. ACC supports accessibility
    6. ACC supports rich user experience.

    We start seeing instances of ACC appearing. Not necessarily, hopefully, in standard browsers!

    As to the third component described by coach Wei, I personally think that the “Enterprise Mashup Server” is a component that is realized partly by a Portal (on the Server) and, partly, by some clver use of the ACC. See my post Composite Applications, Mashups and Portals: “relay race” or “team spirit” ? for more details.

    In any case, Coach Wei’s paper is the first one I read in which some architectural foundation for the new generation of Web-based applications is depicted.

    Today, AJAX’s second birthday, these concepts make a lot of sense to me. Perhaps, the future of AJAX may be in some ACC !

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