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i-Technology Viewpoint: Death to the Browser

To paraphrase, 'I come not to praise the Browser, but to bury it.'

To paraphrase, "I come not to praise the Browser, but to bury it." Because the cold hard fact of application development is that the browser needs to die. Immediately. It's already caused more than enough damage. This may seem to be a harsh statement. After all, the browser was responsible for the explosion of the Internet. It serves many useful purposes and people do billions of dollars worth of business through it every year. Seemingly, I should be praising the browser, not calling for its execution.

Nevertheless, the browser needs to go, and we all know it. It's the dirty secret of the IT world, one we never like to talk about - as a mechanism for delivering a GUI, the browser stinks.

Stinks isn't even a strong enough word. The browser was intended to deliver text across the Internet, and it's good at that. So good that people began to piggyback other things onto their HTML code in order to try to exploit a mechanism of enormous popularity to deliver applications. That's where the problems began.

In one sense, it is HTML and HTTP themselves that have let us down. They stopped evolving, stopped trying to grow - and have been coasting, resting on their laurels for years. By now HTML should have evolved a cross-platform mechanism for designing rich controls and multiwindow applications. It should have moved beyond request-response and standardized a bidirectional communication mechanism so that only data need be transmitted. The overwhelming popularity of software such as Instant Messenger and Napster prove that bidirectional communication is possible, and very desirable. Instead, we have frames and a refresh tag.

I've gone on record before regarding the last mile of Web services and SOA - namely the delivery of complex services and user interfaces to end users. This is where HTML should be - it should have evolved as a mechanism to allow us not to just post text content, but to describe application function as it relates to presentation.

Admittedly, this is a complex area, one where others have tried and failed or at best partially succeeded in driving a common understanding. Nevertheless, rather than writing application code in the form of applets or ActiveX controls, would it not be easier to describe behaviors in XML and allow the next incarnation of the Browser to render application displays? If the capability existed, the tools to make application design feasible and simple would soon follow.

Instead, the browser is brain dead. Plug-ins and controls don't help, because for the most part, even though they may be high quality, they are provided by a single vendor and don't have the force and impact of an industry standard. Also, it's too much work to make the browser look like an application, and in the end, you still have to write the entire application in a way that gives developers fits - because of the constraints of the browser.

What is needed is the Post Browser, the Next Browser, whatever name you want to give to it. Sure, it can still run HTML (the old stuff), in a container that is essentially the same as today's browser. However it should be capable of complete look-and-feel customization via a standard markup language. It should provide a rich set of custom controls and be able to access the desktop (with appropriate security, of course). It should have a native, secure, bidirectional mechanism, and one that supports multiple connections so that we can access services from multiple sources in a composite application. It should also have extensible controls so that we can extend and improve the behavior of controls and applications as needed. Furthermore those extensions should become part of the next release of the standard, which shouldn't take years to come forward.

So I say "Death to the Browser" - bring on a real application platform.

More Stories By Sean Rhody

Sean Rhody is the founding-editor (1999) and editor-in-chief of SOA World Magazine. He is a respected industry expert on SOA and Web Services and a consultant with a leading consulting services company. Most recently, Sean served as the tech chair of SOA World Conference & Expo 2007 East.

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