Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Web is Broken

The other day I came across a pretty good/entertaining Anti-Web Rant.

But as I sit here typing this in Blogger's half-assed "WYSIWIG" text editor, where I can't even use the TAB key, I just am reminded of how the web is a completely broken. The user experience is nothing less than completely dreadful. You may say "Oh well, the web is still evolving." The thing is, there's some precedent here towards UI consistency. We've had 25 years of mainstream GUI computers. Not to mention, the very first Mac rolled off the assembly line with something that actually resembled a consistent interface. Apple's legendary Human Interface Guidelines followed soon after. Mac programmers have always taken UI consistency to heart. Yet many of the current Mac users are web programmers, and those guys are creating slickness, not usability. Even the worst MFC apps are more consistent than web pages, DHTML and Flash applications.

On the technology side, yes, the browser is a hodge-podge of hacks. Who would have imagined that in 2008, the standard of a production networked user application would be to create and ship a dynamic language over the wire in order to make a silly UI widget work? Banks are doing this. Fortune 500 companies are doing this. Once upon a time companies like that used to require that guys in horned rimmed glasses, white button down shirts and black ties first prove that their sorting algorithm is O(n log n) before they implement it. And now those same companies hire guys to consume 250 megabytes of dynamically allocated RAM in my browser so my bank can play a video credit card ad while I reconcile my account. That's amazing.

Except, why do people laugh about this and then go back to doing the same old Javascript hacking shit they just complained about? It's like "Hahaha. Oh well, the old adage remains: worse is better. We'll just have to suck it up because 100 billion people have these craptacular browsers. Maybe ECMAScript 4 will make it suck less. I'm going to read Slashdot now. Look at this nifty new hack where you can use XmlHttpRequest to..."

NO.

People out there are trying to make this stuff suck less. Why don't you start using it? Microsoft has come up with a way to code for .NET (including IronRuby and IronPython) in the browser called Silverlight. It doesn't suck, it's a small install, so use it. There's this OpenLaszlo thing that allows you to abstract applications in XML and have them run as either Flash or DHTML. It doesn't suck and requires no install. Use it.

I'm sure a lot of people out there believe that this will fizzle and go away because it's just Microsoft's "Flash clone". I'm here to tell you: nope. It's not going away. I've spent a fair amount of time looking into it now and it will be useful for a great number of existing Microsoft customers. The new 2.0 version is perfect for those who want to deploy lightweight .NET applications to intranet users. At least for the time being, Silverlight is the only browser application framework I've seen that is fairly well thought out and consistent, plus gives you real development tools.

That said, I doubt anything will supplant Flash or AJAX in a year -- however, someone had to start using Flash when there was no Flash. I'm not sure why those same pioneers wouldn't start using Silverlight/JavaFX/Whatever in the face of a very broken web browser experience with the hope to make it just a little better.

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