The founder of the ColdFusion markup language has lent his voice to a growing list of big names expressing concern over the death of the open web.
Jeremy Allaire has called for an end to the religious wars engulfing devices that was originally sparked off in 2010, when Apple co-founder and chief executive Steve Jobs launched an attack on Flash.
Allaire also called Facebook’s recent decision to kill the HTML5 version of its iOS web app in favour of a native app written in Objective-C “shameful”.
“Mark Zuckerberg was dead wrong, and it was shameful for him to throw HTML5 under the bus because Facebook had an outdated and poorly written hybrid app," Allaire said in an email to journalists.
Facebook has become an important app for platform providers to land. Like Twitter, it’s an app that device-makers like Apple - and now Microsoft - feel they must have running on their software, as they risk commercial death if consumers are not able to Facebook or tweet from their kit.
While it was Jobs’ Thoughts on Flash letter that sparked the religious war, it is ironic that Facebook should dump HTML5, which Jobs had promoted as the bright-and-shining future.
In his 2010 letter, Jobs lambasted Flash on security and performance, for lacking touch and for not being "open".
As with any revolution, however, the HTML5 crusade has begun to devour itself. Jobs's hype almost ensured HTML5 was becoming unhinged from the reality of what it could achieve. Meanwhile, Facebook's ditching of HTML5 for Object-C cemented it into Apple’s walled garden to the detriment of the open mobile web.
In his letter on Thursday, Allaire highlights how Jobs was disingenuous in his anti-Flash crusade of 2010.
Steve Jobs, god bless his soul, was also wrong - well, perhaps, just deceptive - with his Thoughts on Flash and public flogging of Adobe. Killing support for Flash on iOS was not a benevolent move to save consumers from slow and crash-prone software, nor a resounding vote for open, HTML5-based content apps. No, it was merely a flanking maneuver to protect Apple’s proprietary native app development model. While Apple has gone on to deeply enhance the iOS native APIs, they’ve barely moved the needle on support for HTML5 inside of native apps.
And in a blog post to accompany the letter, Allaire points to what's now at stake in the religious war. Devs and companies building for the web face difficult choices, as they must chose between open or native.
In a deflated macro-economy that requires increasing productivity from our workforce, increased global competitiveness for talent, software developers and their choices of which platforms and technologies to build on are having a huge impact everywhere in the world. And this army of technical knowledge bearers may well be at the foundation of what will dig us out of this economic pit.
What's the alternative? Ah, what you're selling...
Naturally, Allaire has an angle, namely hybrid apps. His company, Brightcove, is positioning itself as being capable of bridging the religious war as Brightcove launches what Allaire has called “a major update” to its online video and content platform. The update to Brightcove includes native code, Object-C or Java within your HTML5 applications and includes support for third-party integrations. “We're trying to deepen the Native capabilities in Hybrid Apps,” Allaire reckons.
Maybe. But Brightcove is still playing the Jobs' game of accepting native apps, thus helping to reinforce the fences that are going up around the mobile web.
The preferred option would be to follow the Mozilla model of HTML5. That group has launched its own app store and began rolling out Firefox OS, a Linux operating system for mobile phones. Firefox OS runs HTML5 web apps using the Gecko open-source layout engine in Firefox and which accesses phone systems such as the accelerometer or dialler.
To succeed it'll take the support of major IT companies.
So far it has handset-makers ZTE and TCL Communications Technology, which have committed to making Firefox OS handsets. Telcos Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Smart, Sprint, Telecom Italia, Telefónica and Telenor have also announced their support.
These are early days, and we need to see more devices in play. Devices also need apps – and so far the Mozilla HTML5 store is sparsely populated compared to Apple's App Store, which has 650,000 apps. Even Microsoft’s Windows App Store for Windows 8 has been racking up the numbers, now more than 3,000.
Several years ago, web daddy Tim Berners-Lee bemoaned how the closed data and app gardens of Apple and Facebook were killing the open web. It’s a position taken by Firefox maker Mozilla, too, which champions HTML5 – genuine HTML5, not the kind promoted by Steve Jobs – as the future.
“Hybrid applications” feels rather like a tech company trying to exploit the situation. Claiming jobs and economic recovery are at stake does the same thing.
However, Allaire is the father of an early web markup language and he does raise a good point that there is a future a stake. That future is the future of the non-PC web. As the web moves from the PC to the smartphone, there are already fences that have been put in place around apps and music. As tablets and TVs also become connected to the web, it stands to reason the walled gardens will encompass ever-more territory. As critical mass starts to build it will become self-justifying to back the stores - because they will have all the apps - and all the app consumers.
Sometimes there aren't two sides to an argument: there's just a right one and a wrong one. In the same way, when it comes to the cause of the web, there is only open and closed. Anything in between will perpetuate the existence of closed. ®