Goto keynote "Does the browser have a future"

by DotNetNerd 25. September 2014 09:59

So first day of GOTO in Copenhagen has kicked off, with a somewhat provocative talk entitled "Does the browser have a future?" by Tim Bray - the farther of XML. His initial point was that the browser being declared dead hardly is a new thing since this also happened on the frontpage of Wired magazine in both 1997 and 2010.

A backend detour

Tim went on a detour to cover how this is the golden era of backend development, where life is good because you have few interfaces and testing is easy because it is machines talking to machines. He went over how Erlang, Clojure and Scala are popular but probably not the answer, where he was more optimistic about Go. This should hardly be a surprise, because he has been working at google for a number of years until quite recently. He did however make some good points about having a simple way to work with asyncronicity in a simple language. In the same way he made a short argument that it is also the golden era of persistence, with big companies using NoSQL solutions like Cassandra that enables them to build huge systems that scale with relative ease.

Browses and the mobile era

Going on to the actual topic he said that the tech of the web is also used to build services and for applications that are packaged to run natively. He reiterated the point that today most queries to google are comming from mobile phones, so the use of mobiles enforce the use of apps. His claim is that apps are becomming a real threat to the browser because of this, and because managers tend to think they are dead if they don't have an app. on top of this developers like building them according to Tim, because the technology is much easier to use than Javascript, CSS and the DOM.

Bashing web tech

At this point a admit I very much was disagreeing with what was said, because he went at Javsacript for being a bad language as well as CSS and the DOM for being bad. Sure they have all the problems that we all know and laugh about. However I am actually quite optimistic about the future of the web, because so much is happening with Ecmascript 6 and CSS3. Especially when he said that none of us would want to build a single page app without using a framework to hide ugly details I was shaking my head. This is actually the point of a talk a have given, and a point I will be making in my next talk as well. It was like that a couple of years ago, but for most of the common things we need to build an application, it is actually fairly easy with the improved standardization of browsers that has and is happening.

In agreement after all

From there he started getting to his point and I started realizing that I actually agree more with him than I had just been thinking. After poking fun at the number of frameworks (Angular, Ember, Bootstrap and Polymer) and javscript/css replacements (CoffeeScript, Iced CoffeeScript, Dart, Less and SASS) that are popping up, he made the point that lots of trial and error may just be part of evolution - just as lots of things in nature didn't work to come up with us humans. This is the point where my claim is that it is helping us discover patterns and the improvements we really need in the platform itself.

Lastly Tim made the point which is the big thing for me personally, and a point that I tend to make myself. That is that the issue with apps is that the path to the user is through a vendor, and what is accessible is curated by the various app stores. Today it is the norm that we pay 12 people to solve a 4 man job 3 times, because it needs to be done for web, IOS and Android. On top of this the update time is really slow, which is an issue for security problems and bugfixes.

So finishing up he said that we need to come up with solutions to some of these challenges with browsers. So that I can only agree with, even though I at some points think he painted a much darker picture than the world I see.

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My name is Christian Holm Diget, and I work as an independent consultant, in Denmark, where I write code, give advice on architecture and help with training. On the side I get to do a bit of speaking and help with miscellaneous community events.

Some of my primary focus areas are code quality, programming languages and using new technologies to provide value.

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