Saturday, May 5, 2007

Why RIAs Look Good: The Web Is a Mess

Bruce Eckel's "Web Standards: Only Less of a Mess" comes down to these three points:

  • These days, you can build the web using standards and get it to work in the major browsers.
  • This usually involves a fair amount of trial-and-error, some learning. Even in this new "web standards" world, the web is still a bit of a mess.
  • This mess is what has made building rich internet applications so painful all these years, and what makes alternate approaches, like flash and flex, appealing.
Now, I'm not sure that Eckel would agree with the way I've summarized these points, so feel free to read the original, but it's in line with how I feel about the web.

A web designer came by my desk the other day. I was waiting for my build, and re-reading the ALA article on three-column layouts. He noticed, and asked, amused, "Are you aiming for my job?"

Far from it. I've been programming for so long that I expect a clean working relationship between me and the computer: I tell the computer what to do, and it does what I tell it. Between inconsistent brower implementations and object models, incomplete and half-hearted standards implementations, the Web is not quite so sensible. It's a trial-and-error affair, one where many people rely on abstraction layers like Dojo, and Yahoo UI widgets, because doing it yourself is so darn painful.

I mean, three-column layouts are one of the most common web layouts -- how can it be so hard to do one? Why is this not basically equivalent to declaring in CSS that you'd like to take the three sections you've specified in HTML and lay them out in three columns?

This is why I almost wish we'd toss out a few of these standards and start again, start with something more complete and more standardized. That's not going to happen, but I can dream.

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