In the mid-90s lots of companies sold expensive attempts to make web development more like desktop or client/server development (e.g., by shoe-horning state, UI builders and controls and object-relational mapping into the web paradigm), when all developers really wanted was a way to reliably connect to a database from scripts running on a webserver.
10+ years later similar companies have taken a sharp turn (but not 180 degrees) and are now shoe-horning web development concepts (e.g., URLs, markup and other declarative programming) into their desktop and client/server frameworks. This is what it seems to me Rich Internet Applications are about, though admittedly I have not been following all that closely and am even more in the dark about what exactly is “in” the Apollo, Silverlight, or JavaFX “stack” than I was about the specific features of what came to be known as application servers in the late 90s.
I gather there is lots of fear about damage proprietary RIA frameworks could do to the open web. There’s plenty to be concerned about, and RIA vendors and developers should be encouraged to go open source and for maximum interoperability with the web. Perhaps I’m less than worked up because I see proprietary RIA as a rearguard action (NB web applications are complicated for open source completely independent of their use of “rich” frameworks), albeit one that may significantly improve some desktop and client/server application development.
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?
Shaver’s post also concerns a debate about whether Mozilla should put more of a focus on its desktop development platform, in addition to its applications, primarily Firefox. I haven’t been following closely, but at first glance the debate strikes me as idiotic. XULRunner is just yet another desktop application development platform. Who cares? Yes, I think Songbird is a neat application that also happens to be built on XULRunner. But the web is a far more interesting platform, and Firefox (or to a large extent, just Gecko), not XULRunner, is the client development environment for the web. If Firefox had not been built on XULRunner, how many people would care or notice?
Mozilla has the right focus for another reason, hinted at by Mitchell Baker:
The Mozilla Foundation will continue building the Mozilla platform. And application developers who have high quality improvements to make are very welcome contributors. But the idea of the Mozilla Foundation de-emphasizing applications in order to transform ourselves into a general purpose “platform” organization — giving up the fundamental focus on the human being a application focus provides, reducing our ability to help individuals directly — seems an absolute non-starter to me.
Development frameworks have no