Open web advocates: Get off your high horse

Brendan Eich had a post about the open web and the threat that rich, proprietary technologies posed to it. It got me fired up because I see a business value to having some of these technologies belong to one vendor. In the desktop world, the two software philosophies coexist and I don't see why the web can't be the same way.

First off, Brendan Eich is a smart guy. Hell, he's about a million times smarter than I am, so I'm willing to believe that I might not understand some of the subtler nuances to his post, The Open Web and Its Adversaries. That said, I think a lot of the people who keep talking about the "open web" need to come down and stop belittling companies like Adobe and Microsoft for their "closed web" rich solutions. I hate the term "closed web". It's as if those of us who support these rich technologies are espousing some kind of old boys club and don't want to let anyone else in. It's a little bit insulting and while the merits of open source and open standards are undeniable, wanting everything on the web to be open is unrealistic.

I'm having dinner with Ted Leung tonight, and I'm excited to talk to him about RIA technologies and openness, but I take issue with the tone of Brendan's post yesterday. Good, open conversation is important (see Zelenka, Anne) but I don't think Brendan's was constructive. The issue I see is that when Brendan talks about "the web" he's talking about the web in a browser. I don't believe the browser is as important to the web as it once was. It used to be that the browser WAS the web, but that simply isn't the case any more. The web has expanded to be a medium used for instant messaging, rich media, and most importantly application delivery.

The web isn't just a bunch of hobbyists and scientists showing things off. Businesses are building storefronts on the web and developers are creating enterprise level web applications. Open source is a great thing, but there are reasons people choose "vendor lock-in"; things like reliability, support and accountability. In the case of Flash, long time Flash developers know what to expect from the player. When I invest in development tools from Adobe, I know they'll work flawlessly with the player. When I pay to use the On2 codec, I know everyone with Flash 8 and higher can see my video. Those are business decisions that people using Flash make. They bought into it knowing it was proprietary and for many, that's part of the allure. On the desktop, open source and proprietary solutions coexist just fine. The web can be the same way, and the rhetoric of lamenting a "closed web" doesn't do anyone any good.

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