the high cost of some free tools

(This is going to be a little long, for which I guess I could apologize, but it’s my blog, so whatever.)

So let’s try this one on for size, because everyone is offering the web developer a set of tools to lure them off the web. You’ve got your silly season participants, and you’ve got your — no, honestly, grown-ups came up with this name — JavaFX Script stuff, and they all want you to give up this archaic web thing for something so much shinier, and faster, and man have you seen the cooking-show demos?

You can point and you can click, and you will get an application, and it will run on the web (says Silverlight, because Microsoft has always been about the web: they were just getting up a good head of steam when they left IE6 dangling for years; they were always planning to come back) and on the desktop (says Apollo, because Adobe is best known for its “web” stuff in this space, but when Silverlight comes to the web, I mean, what would you do?). And it will be glorious. You will have graphics and drag-and-drop widgets and you can bet there will be pretty colours and probably a billion language choices, and if it doesn’t generate the cutest little installer then you can have your money back.

Adobe and Microsoft have always had better tools, in part because they’ve staffed and organized hard against them, but also in large part because their platforms require tools — that’s a big part of their business model. I don’t think you should need to buy, or even use-for-free, any given tool to build the web, and by using and helping to drive open web technologies Mozilla lets people choose the tools they want to use. We don’t force you to use the ones that we make money or marketshare on: you can use Eclipse or Firebug, Rails or J2EE, Komodo or Notepad, YUI or Dojo. If you ask the people who are building the exciting and significant apps on the web today, be they gmail or eBay or twitter or facebook or flickr or even Windows Live Search, I bet you that vanishingly few of them use IDEs. They use the tool that works best for them, for a given problem, sometimes using a bunch at once. I would be very surprised to discover that all of a given team even uses the same text editor, to be frank.

(We also don’t make you sign licensing agreements to get the format specifications, or prevent you from competing with us. We don’t tell you where you can and can’t install the software. We don’t tell you what you can and can’t tell people about your experiences, or that you can’t give it to other people with whom you might want to collaborate.)

If you choose a platform that needs tools, if you give up the viral soft collaboration of View Source and copy-and-paste mashups and being able to jam jQuery in the hole that used to have Prototype in it, you lose what gave the web its distributed evolution and incrementalism. You lose what made the web great, and what made the web win. If someone tells you that their platform is the web, only better, there is a very easy test that you can use:

Is this the web?

When the tool spits out some bundle of shining Deployment-Ready Code Artifact, do you get something that can be mashed up, styled, scripted, indexed by search engines, read aloud by screen readers, read by humans, customized with greasemonkey, reformatted for mobile devices, machine-translated, excerpted, transcluded, edited live with tools like Firebug? Or do you get a chunk of dead code with some scripted frills about the edges, frozen in time and space, until you need to update it later and have to figure out how to get the same tool setup you had before, and hope that the platform is still getting security and feature updates? (I’m talking to you, pre-VB.NET Visual Basic developers.)

Mozilla has always valued and supported web developers, and in turn those who support developers with tools and other assets, and we’ll invest more in this area over the coming year. But we’ll do it in a way that makes sense for the whole web, and brings to bear the human-manipulable power of web technology: a great set of primitives that people combine in very different ways, giving developers a great opportunity to choose tools and toolkits and patterns and technology that suit how they want to work and what they want to build.

The web can eat toolchain bait like this for breakfast. And, if Mozilla has anything to say about it, it will do just that. You won’t have to give up the web to work offline any more, or programmable 2D graphics, etc. Soon you’ll have the power of 3D and great desktop/application integration as well, via projects like canvas3d and registration of content handlers, and you’ll have it in a way that’s built on open specifications and a tool ecosystem that isn’t a monoculture. Why wouldn’t you choose the web, given its record and power and openness?

27 comments to “the high cost of some free tools”

  1. entered 10 May 2007 @ 5:49 pm

    [...] Mike Shaver of Mozilla asks: Why wouldn’t you choose the web, given its record and power and openness? [...]

  2. entered 11 May 2007 @ 3:35 am

    [...] Duke is open for business. via Shaver Posted in RIA, TOOLS, JAVA, SUN. [...]

  3. entered 11 May 2007 @ 4:38 am

    Dinner with Chris Messina…

    I just had dinner with Chris Messina. Well, not actually, but it rather felt like it. Instead, I spent 50 minutes watching his video monologue on the way he sees the future of the Mozilla project and Firefox. But it felt very much like he was bending m…

  4. entered 11 May 2007 @ 6:52 am

    Control You…

              Mike Shaver: ...
    
  5. Rando Calrissian
    entered 11 May 2007 @ 9:14 am

    Amen. If I was the president of the internet I’d make everyone have to read this post by my royal decree.

  6. entered 11 May 2007 @ 1:09 pm

    [...] pushes back! the high cost of some free tools Trackback Friday, May 11, 200710:09am [...]

  7. entered 11 May 2007 @ 2:47 pm

    [...] Mike Shaver: “Why wouldn’t you choose the web, given its record and power and openness?” [...]

  8. heavyboots
    entered 11 May 2007 @ 4:05 pm

    Indeed. Have you tried to buy anything from Adobe recently? You can’t even copy/paste or grab a link in some parts of the “store” any more because those bits are done in Flash. Argh.

  9. entered 11 May 2007 @ 4:56 pm

    Think Game Consoles. As we move to video on the internet, the open tools will need to approximate the game console level of user experience. I believe this is why we are seeing the sudden move toward providing tempting IDE tools. The Nintendo Wii and its GUI and the AppleTV redefine the web landscape though they both need keyboard and a video camera input.

    I hope the open tools keep up so teams of people can loosely aggregate around meaningful projects which meet the quality expectations dictated by console GUI design. It would be sad if the web ends up being accessed by a bunch of closed boxes. Think cell phone companies married to consoles.

  10. entered 11 May 2007 @ 6:24 pm

    [...] Mike Shaver makes some excellent points in his blog post “the high cost of some free tools“, addressing the new crop of “Rich Internet Application” or RIA platforms: Microsoft’s Silverlight, Adobe’s Apollo (and Flash), Sun’s JavaFX etc. versus the “open web” where the platform  is not under the control of a single vendor, but a set of specifications and drafts to define the protocols, recommendations from different groups to define the data formats, and a ton of other RFCs. [...]

  11. entered 11 May 2007 @ 7:30 pm

    [...] shaver » the high cost of some free toolsMozilla developer rants persuasively against Silverlight, Apollo, etc. Think of “view source” as your “is this the Web?” query tool [...]

  12. entered 12 May 2007 @ 3:24 am

    [...] shaver » the high cost of some free tools tagit: [...]

  13. entered 12 May 2007 @ 2:45 pm

    Mike,

    With all due respect.

    In absence of a broadly internalized Mozilla value proposition that Chris Messina’s video appeal addresses, for the majority of Web developers (as well as users) the Web is defined by what it can do for them in practice.

    Mozilla developer tools could be to the developer what Firefox is to the user: an equal or better partner on the innovation and marketing leading-edge of the “innovation and choice on the Internet” Mozilla mission. The user-agent View Source isWeb unit test is funny and eliminates most Web false positives, but its neither the singular nor even first priority suitability or utility test for most developers (or users).

    It’s disheartening to see Mozilla’s Technology Strategist abdicating the significance thus leadership opportunity of a symmetric developer-centric strategy.

    There’s a lot more to say, but if there’s interest we can take it offline. =)

    With much respect and love for the mission, Rob Lord

  14. entered 12 May 2007 @ 4:26 pm

    Rob,

    I’m not sure what post you were reading, and I’m not sure how one abdicates an opportunity (seeing opportunity as a birth-right or granted office seems at best to be tempting fate), but I am not against tools at all, and as I said we will be investing in them more over the course of this year. I don’t think that all tools are GUIs, though, and I count Firebug, AJAX libraries, documentation, test suites, extensibility mechanisms, crash reporting and all such things as developer tools. The Mozilla Corporation is not going to build all of those things, just as we don’t build all of Firefox. (If I got to wave a wand, in fact, I would probably move everyone in the entire Mozilla universe off of stuff like XULRunner and onto tooling and tool infrastructure for Web developers.)

    My post was about caring about what comes out of your tools, not just how sexy the demos are or how pleasant they are to work with up-front. And that giving up the (under-marketed) things that make the web great should not be done lightly, if indeed at all. It wasn’t about the Mozilla value proposition, it was about the web value proposition, and more specifically what goes into making that proposition so valuable. (Where the Mozilla value proposition diverges meaningfully from the current or tractable-future web value proposition, I think it’s a bug, but that’s another post entirely.) I know that webbiness is not the primary test that developers apply, and I think that’s a very dangerous state, which is why I wrote what I did. I think that what the web can do for them in practice is vitally important, and that it’s more than just how easy it is to handle clicks and post dialogs, or how many different ways you can animate your transitions. Developers, I fear, don’t fully understand what they would be giving up by moving to something that has less of the web nature. (“Well, it still gets deployed from a central server and can run anywhere that there’s a browser, so it’s just as good as AJAX, right?”)

    I wrote my post before Chris’ video rocked the webwaves, but I don’t think that it’s what I would call a “broadly internaliz[able] Mozilla value proposition”. That, too, is another post.

  15. entered 12 May 2007 @ 5:58 pm

    [...] Read with your fist held up in the air: Adobe and Microsoft have always had better tools, in part because they’ve staffed and organized hard against them, but also in large part because their platforms require tools — that’s a big part of their business model. I don’t think you should need to buy, or even use-for-free, any given tool to build the web, and by using and helping to drive open web technologies Mozilla lets people choose the tools they want to use. We don’t force you to use the ones that we make money or marketshare on: you can use Eclipse or Firebug, Rails or J2EE, Komodo or Notepad, YUI or Dojo. If you ask the people who are building the exciting and significant apps on the web today, be they gmail or eBay or twitter or facebook or flickr or even Windows Live Search, I bet you that vanishingly few of them use IDEs. They use the tool that works best for them, for a given problem, sometimes using a bunch at once. I would be very surprised to discover that all of a given team even uses the same text editor, to be frank. [...]

  16. entered 12 May 2007 @ 6:40 pm

    [...] Mike Shaver has a nice post related to this: The web can eat toolchain bait like this for breakfast. And, if Mozilla has anything to say about it, it will do just that. You won’t have to give up the web to work offline any more, or programmable 2D graphics, etc. Soon you’ll have the power of 3D and great desktop/application integration as well, via projects like canvas3d and registration of content handlers, and you’ll have it in a way that’s built on open specifications and a tool ecosystem that isn’t a monoculture. Why wouldn’t you choose the web, given its record and power and openness? [...]

  17. entered 13 May 2007 @ 9:48 am

    [...] shaver » the high cost of some free tools [...]

  18. entered 13 May 2007 @ 10:34 am

    [...] This is a lazy web request. I got caught this morning in creating a Yahoo Pipe for almost all of my outputs. Quite easy. Except some of the feeds have their output not rendered correctly (shows html tags in the final view). I know it’s an encoding problem. I should be able to fix it. I can view source and know this stuff. [...]

  19. Ophir Radnitz
    entered 15 May 2007 @ 5:43 am

    Great post, but…

    It is important to distinguish content from application. Most of your valid points are relevant to content only. JavaFX, Flex, Silverlight and the likes are application platforms.

    HTML was born for content and raped to allow applicative use. The semantic web which builds upon open, standard markup is relevant to content only. It excels at distilling pure content from design, that pure form of content can later be propagated and enriched with metadata and transformed and so on.

    Not so with applications (as in RiA). Application have different needs. Application GUI is not content (though it may produce and serve content). GUI needs more than XForms for views. It needs good context handling, conversions, flow handling, rich event model, data binding and etc. Many of those needs can be better addressed by a platform that designed for applications.

    Maybe application platforms need a better common denominator upon which the community can build to achieve greater collaboration, reuse and so on. Some of the web service hype is an attempt at distilling behavior from GUI design to achieve something along those lines.

  20. entered 15 May 2007 @ 6:45 pm

    [...] “When the tool spits out some bundle of shining Deployment-Ready Code Artifact, do you get something that can be mashed up, styled, scripted, indexed by search engines, read aloud by screen readers, read by humans, customized with greasemonkey, reformatted for mobile devices, machine-translated, excerpted, transcluded, edited live with tools like Firebug?” – Mike Shaver [...]

  21. Jordan
    entered 19 May 2007 @ 12:47 pm

    What happens if you view source and the first line says “eval(function(p,a,c,k,e,d)”?

  22. entered 21 May 2007 @ 7:47 pm

    JavaScript: The Lingua Franca of the Web…

    Mike Shaver, a founding member of the Mozilla team, has strong feelings about how the web became popular: If you choose a platform that needs tools, if you give up the viral soft collaboration of View Source and copy-and-paste……

  23. entered 13 June 2007 @ 10:42 am

    [...] Shaver is right: the web is great because it has fostered open cooperation, viral programming, coding by view-source, mashups and “being able to jam jQuery in the hole that used to have Prototype in it”. The internet provides an excellent medium for viral and open markup and programming. But this kind of programming does not need to be unique to the web, and the Mozilla platform is a great bridge between these two worlds. [...]

  24. entered 22 July 2007 @ 3:40 am

    Very well said!

  25. entered 16 October 2007 @ 9:20 pm

    [...] Things are looking a little brighter. While it’s still not good for the web, Silverlight and Flash seem to encourage much more compatibility across browsers/platforms than Windows Media Player ever has. Flash has been a major win for Firefox. Flash is rather consistent across browsers making it a popular choice for media (think YouTube). It’s leveled the playing field, since lets face it, Windows Media historically has been lacking in Firefox, though recently improving. On Mac OS X it is awful at best. h.264 support will make Flash even more attractive to content providers in the near future who are still holding out because of quality. [...]

  26. entered 28 October 2007 @ 7:58 am

    [...] I suspect that an AIR application can accomplish the same limited functionality with just a bit more code than hello world and that AIR provides much more. But unless Adobe can effectively communicate what the heck AIR is and exactly how it works with open standards, it will be eaten for breakfast by the slow (for good reason — more fully featured web/desktop integration will raise all kinds of thorny security, synchronization and software update issues) web juggernaut. As some commenters pointed out, the obvious thing for Adobe to do is to “work with Mozilla and other players to standardize these features.” [...]

  27. entered 26 July 2010 @ 8:15 am

    What’s going to happen now? Will Apple stop supporting flash in it’s computers as well? Adobe needs to work with Mozilla. Forget about people who don’t want to cooperate. Greets from South Africa. http://www.mediahut.co.za