Archive for June 2004

News 15 Jun

FirefoxOh, goody, FireFox 0.9 is here. And it's less than a 5 MB download. I have long since switched to FireFox for web browsing. I switched for the popup blocking but I stayed for the tabbed browsing.

Here are three reasons to switch web browsers today:

  • You'll get fewer viruses and you'll get no annoying popups asking you if you want to install lame spyware that will ruin your computer forcing a complete reinstall.
  • You can open all your bookmarks in tabs, all at once, and let them download in the background while you read them.
  • You'll help break the Microsoft Monopoly on web browsers. Microsoft took over the browser market fair and square by making a better product, but they were so afraid that Web-based applications would eliminate the need for Windows that they locked the IE team in a dark dungeon and they haven't allowed improvements to IE for several years now. Now Firefox is the better product and there's a glimmer of hope that one day DHTML will actually improve to the point where web-based applications are just as good as Windows-based applications.


News 16 Jun

“There are two opposing forces inside Microsoft, which I will refer to, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as The Raymond Chen Camp and The MSDN Magazine Camp.

How Microsoft Lost the API War

News 17 Jun

The Web Hypertext Applications Technology Working Group is working on extending HTML4 forms to make Web applications work better.

In the previous rounds of HTML enhancement, the world's great graphic designers (like Jeffrey Zeldman) made the most noise and got us things like CSS which allow the kind of pixel-perfect page layout that the marketing people like, done in an intelligent way that separates content from presentation. Kudos. They got what they wanted, mostly, and quieted down. Now it's time for us application developers to start clamoring for the features we need to develop great web applications. Here are some examples of the kinds of features I'd like to see in web browsers:

  1. Improved inline editing (step one: make contentEditable work in Gecko just like it does in IE 5.5+)
  2. Javascript features to do fast REST queries back to the server, so I can implement things like a lush spell checker with the dictionary on the server. It should be possible to have a 300,000 employee directory on the server and create a web app that has a list box where you can type the first few letters of an employee's name and see a filtered list as fast as you can type on the screen.
  3. A rich set of standard controls for application development that provide better ways to upload files, better ways to drag and drop with the desktop, etc
  4. Compiled or compressed JavaScript, so that web applications can use really large amounts of JavaScript with decent performance
  5. Better standardized windowing features. At the very least I'd like modal and modeless dialogs that pop up instantly, a standard way to do a menu inside a web page (with ONE consistent UI, not everybody's wacky DHTML menu that are all a bit different), TreeView and ListView controls, and a standard way to make a toolbar/button bar
  6. The ability to get a "device context" (in a platform neutral way) on an HTML control and wail on it to paint just about anything you want
  7. A far richer set of events. At the very least I need to be able to use the entire keyboard. Combined with #6 I should be able to develop any custom control I want that is 100% client side.
  8. Media integration, so I can play sounds or stream music in standard ways without relying on <objects>
  9. Graceful degradation for legacy browsers (IE. It's time to make Microsoft play catchup again. Fire and Motion Baby.)

This is just a random list, nothing organized. These things would have happened if browser development hadn't ground to a halt in the late 90s due to the misguided Netscape-rewrite-project and the lock-IE-developers-in-a-dungeon project.

What I do not want to hear about:

  1. Proprietary tools like Macromedia's or Java Applets that embed clever widgets in rectangles in a browser. I want this stuff integrated with DHTML and CSS, deeply in the fabric of the web
  2. Things that don't have any chance of degrading gracefully on legacy browsers. You have to be able to construct an interface that gets better if you install Firefox, but still works on IE, without too much testing on the part of the developer.
  3. Boil the ocean schemes that require 400,000,000 users to install some thingamajig before you get anything useful. Such schemes will not go anywhere.

What are your ideas for improving the HTML/CSS/JavaScript infrastructure to make web app development better? Write them up and post them somewhere; I'll point to the best ones from my blog. Please don't email me your suggestions -- post them on the web and email me a link so everyone can benefit. I just don't have enough time for private email conversations (yesterday's API Wars article generated well over 200 thoughtful email messages which I can never hope to respond to adequately). It's time for application developers to start clamoring for the next generation of the Web now that the graphic designers got their wish list taken care of.

News 18 Jun

Dean Jackson, who's responsible for applications at the W3C: “The good news is that it seems we have many of the big players ready to go in this area. Joel may get some of his wishes sooner than he thinks (let's hope!)”

Rhys Jeremiah: “I'll outline the features that I would like to add.”

Jeremy Hartley: “I have spent the past two years web-enabling my company's HRM System. My intentions have always been to make the web version of the application as similar to the Win32 version as possible—no compromise allowed. To do this I have had to use every trick in the book as well as making up quite a few myself. The process took me two years. I think I could have done it in six months if I had had the following...”

Yoz Grahame: “The current Javascript security philosophy can be easily summarised thus: ‘No.’”

Jeremy Smith: “I want a way to access a browser's right-click menu.”

Mike Marshall doesn't agree. “Here is the real solution. Microsoft is coming out with ClickOnce in VS 2005 ('Whidbey'). What's that, too platform independent? Java will come with something similar, in fact Java Web Start apps are pretty much already there. You will have your pick at this time next year, believe me.”

News 23 Jun

SysAdmin Week

New server at Peer 1 NetworksThis week is sysadmin week, in which I catch up on a few months of accumulated system administration headaches.

On Monday I went down to Peer 1 Networks' colocation facility in New York, where the main Joel on Software server lives. Peer 1 provides free bandwidth and a wee shelf (shown at right) for Joel on Software, for which I am extremely grateful. Michael and I installed the original server there about a year and a half ago, and it's been running fine ever since, down only because of Windows Updates. (Don't get me started.) Sometimes the server didn't come back up properly after one of the reboots required for patching Windows, so we installed a remote controlled power strip, which has a web interface allowing us to power cycle the server. There's supposed to be such a thing built into the server itself, something Dell makes called RAC, but it crashes more often than the server, requiring a full power cycle to get it back to life, which defeats the purpose...

Anyway the reason I went down on Monday was to slide in another 1U Dell server into the rack which will serve as a "hot backup" in case the main server dies. I'm going to set up some simple replication from the main server to the hot backup so we should be able to switch back and forth between the main server and the backup server without more than a few seconds of downtime. The replication will use robocopy for files and log shipping for SQL databases like the database behind the discussion group.

Peer 1, by the way, is doing incredibly well. When I installed the server there last winter they only had two rows of racks, mostly empty. On Monday when I went down there the whole data center was crammed with racks and they were turning away new customers until they could arrange for a bigger data center. Joe Cooper, the NY manager, told me they had gone from 20% to 90% capacity in their colo facility and were trying to reserve the remaining 10% for existing customers. A nice problem to have. I couldn't be happier with their hosting services and they're the nicest people, so even though I'm completely tainted since they host my site for free, I most heartily recommend them if you're looking for colocation (or wicker furniture, har dee har har).

News 25 Jun

Brendan Eich recently wrote: “The best way to help the Web is to incrementally improve the existing web standards, with compatibility shims provided for IE, so that web content authors can actually deploy new formats interoperably.”

Dave Shea nicely summarizes the conversation about web applications. “The recession is over, the slump is ended. Web development is in demand, and the demand is only going to increase.”

Patrick Breitenbach pointed me to General Interface, a company that has built a commercial windowing/UI system on top of DHTML allowing almost-rich-client-apps inside the browser. They lean a bit too heavily on IE-only features for now and the overall look is more like a rich client app than a web app (very much like Oddpost), but hey, it's one way to do it.

Ben Nolan has a dusty library called phplive. “It's event driven programming for the web - but the whole page isn't refreshed - whenever you click a button, focus an element, or fire any event that has a handler on the server - an RPC call is dispatched to the server...”

Ian Hickson of Opera: “Our own position was that any successful framework would have to be backwards compatible with the existing Web content, and would have to be largely implementable in Windows IE6 without using binary plug-ins (for example using scripted HTCs). We were the only ones to even remotely suggest that the solution should be based on HTML.”

Espen Antonsen shares his wishlist: “As a web developer I find many tasks more time consuming and difficult to accomplish when building a web application - we develop a web-based ERP system.”

SysAdmin Week

I just wanted to announce that SysAdmin Week will hence be known as "SysAdmin Fortnight."

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