Almost everything that makes up the WWW is a hack. HTML, HTTP, SMTP, are all antiquated technologies. These old technologies were engineered with the sole intention of delivering and sharing text documents. Early web browsers and e-mail clients shared this same basic vision in the beginning. Even today, most media requires plug-ins and other technologies in order to be shared over the web. Where is the problem? It lies in the expectation in the end-users of the Internet. Over the last several years, the major players on the Internet are not delivering documents, but services and applications, which infer an expectation of user experience.
The expectation of a controlled user experience is not a reasonable expectation of the Internet. The Internet by definition does not have any of the building blocks for a true user interface. Cookies are a terrible way to manage state, and HTTP+HTML has no traditional support for static or persistent elements. To go further, the standing trend over the last several years has been to deliver web-based applications. The complexity of these applications has been growing over the years to include two-way communication, streaming data, persistent state, and all of the other elements that traditional computer applications contain. All trying to be consistent across dozens of different browser/OS combinations with different connection rates and privacy and security restrictions.
- Inconsistent across different platforms
- Not intended to be used as a UI framework
- Poor state control
- No built-in multimedia control
- 2 connection limit per DNS host name
- Does not support Keep-Alive
The worst part of this combination is that the services that rely upon these technologies to deliver their service have little or no control upon how the two interact, because their service is a slave to whichever web browser the client uses to access them.
- DHTML and DOM
- Plug-ins and ActiveX objects
- Java Applets
- XMLHttpRequest object
Java’s Swing framework was probably the first reasonable attempt of a resolution. Its failures and shortcomings were few. Java is too heavy of a language for a UI framework. It isn’t powerful enough to be fast and efficient. Java Runtime Environment has too much access to the client’s machine, and not enough security for most people. On top of this, Swing’s anti-aliasing and 2D drawing is less than attractive.
While HTTP and HTML will most likely remain the foundation blocks of the Internet, I have great faith that many of the services out there with web-delivered applications will be looking towards other technologies such as AIR or XULRunner in order to better control the user experience and deliver richer applications.