Open web advocates: Get off your high horse

Open web advocates: Get off your high horse

Summary: 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.

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TOPICS: Browser
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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.

Topic: Browser

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  • And what you seem to forget...

    ... is that "open" forces competition and improves product quality through competition. "Closed" allows products to languish and be charged at disproportionate prices. Although there was no price tag involved, look at the neglect Internet Explorer suffered at the hands of Microsoft until Firefox came along.

    The "closed" web would, given time, just stagnate into a bunch of protectorates where innovation would be stifled and the customer would suffer in the long run.

    Why do you think there is so much pressure to move to open standards?
    bportlock
    • And what you seem to forget...

      Umm, why does competition only happen when systems are open? It doesn't. Close systems can compete as well, which is why I'm looking forward to "WPF/E". Flash has been great, but WPF/E is going to provide some competition.
      ryanstewart
      • Again, who is allowed to compete? With the closed web, only big companies

        can compete, and prices are kept high, with low quality and less innovation.

        The reason for the closed APIs and protocols is to restrict compatition, NOT enhance it.
        DonnieBoy
        • You must work for free!

          The reason they are closed is because MS & Adobe pay engineers to do R&D to make possible what was previously impossible or extremely difficult. In the current world economy, they would be stupid to give it away.
          MarlonSmith
          • Sure, MS and Adobe like it when there is restricted competition!!! They can

            keep prices high!!!

            But, there is no rocket science in the APIs and protocols like MS and Adobe would like you to think. They only want private ones to disadvantage competitors.

            That said, so far, Adobe has had to play nice, since they do not have a desktop monopoly, but, what if the balance shifted, and we were heavily dependent on Adobe for the "interactive web". Can we depend on them doing the right thing?
            DonnieBoy
  • Uhhh isn't the main goal as a business to make money?

    Great post Ryan,
    If folks feel so strongly about 'closed' software solutions, then speak with your wallet - don't buy it. But, at the same time, don't cry foul because there is no 'open' solution.

    What about the car dealer you bought your car from? Is it unfair the engine is built in a way that you cannot work on it yourself? Same thing. If that bothers you, don't buy it.

    Lastly, I like to use Open Source solutions as much as possible but Open Source does not always = better.
    brandonthedeveloper
    • Uhhh isn't the main goal as a business to make money?

      "Lastly, I like to use Open Source solutions as much as possible but Open Source does not always = better." Exactly. And open source does not mean better competition either.

      I just don't get it. A ton of resources went into building these technologies, and a ton goes into making sure they work correctly.I hate when non-profits like Mozilla go after companies making money; it's a bad comparison.
      ryanstewart
      • Four points

        (1) Microsoft spent $0.00 letting Internet Explorer languish for years because there was no effective competition

        (2) A "ton of resources" goes into developing resources. If you look at studies showing the CVS logs of who updates Linux software you will find that there are familiar names - IBM, Novell, Redhat, etc

        (3) Mozilla makes money too. So do Novell, IBM, HP, etc, etc.

        (4) This isn't really an open/closed source thing. It's open/closed STANDARDS that allow competition to drive improvement.
        bportlock
    • Uhhh, like we want the web segmented? We want MS and Adobe controlling

      innovation and prices? We want low quality software?

      Free and open competition is good for customers. Restricted competition can make a lot of money for those that are allowed to compete, but is not good for customers.
      DonnieBoy
  • I should have stopped reading this garbage when I got to

    [i]"First off, Brendan Eich is a smart guy. Hell, he's about a million times smarter than I am..."[/i]

    Yes, he probably is...

    If you think having proprietary solutions that are controlled by a select few gain saturation within the market a good idea, then good for you.

    However...

    If you are one of the people using a system that is either:
    a) incompatible with said proprietary solution
    or
    b) unable to use said proprietary solution because of licensing issues

    then your s*** outta luck.

    Now do you see why it is so important that the web should stay open for all? Maybe reading [url=http://labs.opera.com/webstandards/]this[/url] will help educate you.

    If not, then your first sentence was very true.

    NOTE:
    I use the Opera web browser which strives to ensure compliance with open web standards. I, like the people behind Opera, believe in fighting for an open web, so no, I won't get off my high horse because I was never on one to start with.
    Scrat
    • I should have stopped reading this garbage when I got to

      I don't want to see some proprietary versions of HTML, in fact I think having those core building blocks continue to be open standards is great. But they only go so far, and when you need a more robust solution (for things like rich media) you're going to have to be willing to pay. In some cases, it may just be the tools. If Adobe ever tried to charge for Flash Player, *they'd* be the ones that are SOL.
      ryanstewart
      • Robustness requires paying?

        Tell it to users of Apache, Firefox, Linux, OpenBSD, etc. etc.

        You are assuming that robust, "rich client" platforms must be single-vendor (however paid for). It just ain't so. There's nothing magic about HTML or other "core building blocks" that makes them "robust" when implemented by multiple vendors, but makes "rich media" fall apart unless Adobe or MS is the single vendor.

        Who is on a high horse here? This looks like big company worship or an arguemnt from authority.

        /be
        Brendan Eich
        • RE: Robustness requires paying?

          Those are great examples, and if someone wants to create an RIA platform based on open standards, that's great, but I don't know why as soon as something becomes popular on the web it needs to be made an open standard.

          Flash has done just fine as a proprietary technology and it's helped the web in a big way. If developers don't want that richness, they aren't obligated to use it.
          ryanstewart
          • Simple answer...

            [i]"but I don't know why as soon as something becomes popular on the web it needs to be made an open standard."[/i]

            ... nmake it an open standard and that ensures that it will STAY popular. It also make it difficult for the competition to steal your customer base out from under you.

            Unless Microsoft and Adobe truly open their RIA standards then those components will remain niche components in an HTML universe. Look at it this way - HTML itself costs nothing but everyone understands it and knows how to use or extend it. Along comes the next wonder language (or RIA stuff) and you pay money to use it or it does not run properly on every platform. What's the incentive to use it? None!

            Now open it out. Allow other people to create to your standard and they will think of things that you never entertained of envisaged. They may even produce low end versions of your products forcing your quality threshold higher (and improving customer perception of your product) but also removing the bottom end of your market where, typically, the lowest profits and most problematic customers reside.

            Then there is the issue of control. If you don't open your standards then expect some propellor-heads to show up and reverse engineer your product for their pet OS. There are lots of open source stuff out there that manages to read closed format stuff fairly well and if you're not in control of your standard then what happens if the geeks IMPROVE your standard so that you are behind the curve? It has happened and it will happen again.
            bportlock
          • RE: Simple answer...

            So I buy all of those arguments, and while I don't entirely agree, I absolutely see where you're coming from.

            But what I'd like to think happens is that if Flash starts to lose its luster and popularity because it isn't an open standard, Adobe takes steps to remedy that.

            As it stands, Flash is very popular and there isn't any need for Adobe to open it up. That's what got me about Brendan's post. If it remains popular, why does Flash need to become an open standard? What incentive does Adobe have?
            ryanstewart
          • Flash is already in the firing line

            [i]"If it remains popular, why does Flash need to become an open standard? What incentive does Adobe have?"[/i]

            The attack is on - http://www.swishzone.com/index.php

            The Flash market is already under assault. By opening Flash and then appointing itself "the keeper of the standard", Adobe can ask the community (all users, not just open source ones) what new features should be in the standard, they can propagate the standard and they can (to a large extent) control the standard. Other developers will hook their products into Flash making it harder and harder for Adobe's competitors to dislodge it.

            Even in this scenario, Adobe has the money to make classy, high end products that integrate well with other offerings in its product lines. The open source stuff will be niche and specialist in areas that Adobe has no interest in (such as Flash extensions for PHP, Java, etc (PHP already has them - more reverse engineering)).

            Sun waited too long to open source Solaris and it may have waited too long to open source java. As a result, Solaris is losing share to Linux and the Open Java project is merely in progress.

            Adobe's products are being reverse engineered already. Adobe needs to wake up and get the propellor-heads on side as well as the designers.
            bportlock
  • The term closed web is very appropriate. It describes what it is. Well,

    maybe they should not use the term "web" at all, since that term describes a system accessed with open standards. If it is closed, it is really not part of the web at all.

    You also forget that there is no rocket science in the api and protocols. The only reason for closed ones is to restrict competition and keep prices high.

    That said, Flash is cross platform an more open than anything from MS, but, can we depend on them play nice and not use any dirty tricks? In the past, we could not depend on them to release for Max and Linux at the same time as Windows.

    If we are all insist on open standards, we will have more innovation, better quality software, and lower prices. What could be better?
    DonnieBoy
    • RE: The term closed web is very appropriate. It describes what it is. Well,

      Well, if you're afraid that Adobe is going to mess with Flash, why would you use it? It just seems like as soon as something becomes a a "web" technology, people have an expectation of openness. I realize that's the history of the web, but it's unrealistic to think that can continue forever. Adobe's been successful, and part of that is because they've been trustworthy. Why is it in their interests to be more open or embrace fully open standards?
      ryanstewart
      • We do not want a segmented web, with parts only accessible from certain

        platforms. That is what will happen if nobody stands up and talks about it.

        And yes it is VERY realistic for the web to continue to be open and cross platform. Actually it is in our best interest to maintain it that way. Otherwise, one or two companies can control the protocols and APIs, limiting competition and innovation, and keeping prices high.

        Yes, Adobe has an ok track record, but we also need to be wary of what might happen if they could make millions by restricting competition and innovation. And, MS with a horrendous track record, can not be trusted at all.

        It is very important that we speak out on this issue to maintain a free and open web with innovation and competition. It is in our best interest. Hey there are even journalists that don't understand this, though it is really quite simple.
        DonnieBoy
  • You have a choice

    If you make the decision to use an unsupported OS/platform/client... whatever, who needs to take the responsibility for that? Hmmm maybe you?

    Point is, at the end of the day, its a business and businesses want to make money. As long as folks keep buying, why should they give it away?
    brandonthedeveloper