A World Without Browser Plugins

Monday, February 01, 2010 16 comments
...scares the hell out of me. Apple recently announced the iPad and unless you're living under a rock you've heard about it and probably the brouhaha over its refusal to allow Flash. Apparently the iPad won't allow any browser plugins. I am scared to hell.

Web/browser-based applications are the future. We will continue to move further away from the desktop. Soon enough, almost all widespread software will be browser-based. Today that means HTML+Javascript, plus Flash, Silverlight, Java or any other plugin-based approach. If Steve Job's has his way, we won't have any plugins. The Open Web crowd want the same. So just HTML and Javascript. Regardless of how you feel about HTML+Javascript today, everyone has to agree that the rate of innovation here is very very slow. The HTML5 mess including the recent spat about video codecs shows us again that Design by Committee is the worst sort of process.

Now imagine a world where this is the ONLY avenue for new innovations in client-side languages and platforms. If we remove plugins this is all we have left. On the client side, there will be no new languages - just Javascript. There will be no new languages to sprout up like Java or Ruby have done in the past decade. Nope - Javascript is the standard. Nobody will have the motivations (i.e. there will be no money in it) or ability to add a new language to the browser standards. And there will be no way around this via plugins.

Steve Jobs certainly has his master plan and hopes to make large sums of money on the iPad and the continuing dominance of the iPhone. But the Open Web folks seemingly come from a more philosophic/political agenda - "The Web Should be Free". What happens when that comes true. What happens when we've successfully prevented all corporate interests from profiting off client technologies on the internet? Then certainly no companies will invest in the client technologies. We've salted our own fields. We've put our sole hope for new innovation in a committee process thats proven itself time and time again, both in general theory and in specific practice of these groups, to be slow and fraught with problems.