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Forking Revisted

Clearly, having suggested that Adobe and others may be forking the web, it’s worth commenting on the Tamarin announcement and seeing how that laces back in.

As you can imagine, my suggestion that Adobe may be forking the web generated a lot discussion while I was at Adobe Max. Across several Adobe folks I talked with the idea was both simple: the web is not evolving to the next generation appropriately, more importantly, there isn’t someone taking care of it. That point is certainly true and I still find myself concerned that there doesn’t seem to be a strong, known presence in evolving the web via standards and technologies.

Now, you could use my own pet-thinking against me and point us off towards my favorite cocktail of Benkler, open source, and passionate developers: “sure the web is evolving, it’s emergent, babe!” There’s truth in that, and it certainly works in a wikipedia context. But, just as someone(s) had to build MediaWiki for wikipedia, someone(s) had to build HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and the magic, AJAX catalyst, xmlhttprequest.

I mean, how long has a simple thing like easy to use layout been broken in CSS? Sure, throw all the negative margins and float: magic that you want at me: compared to tables (which we mustn’t use because…uh…standards!), it’s a bunch of hoodoo almost as bad as Java classloader tricks.

“Tell me what you have, and that’s when I’ll know if you have anything to start with

My inner HTML curmudgeon aside, while I agree with the point that the evolution of the web seems to too heavy on the emergent side, if at all, looking towards one vendor, or even a group of vendors to take on that evolution strikes me as impractical. Sure, I also don’t like it, but who cares about my personal thinking esp. when I’m always cavorting with the idea that the raw value of software is imploding by the day?

It’s impractical because: (a.) it’s very expensive, if not innovation lossy, to in-house software development compared to participatory/open source development, and, (b.) the gate keepers, and beyond, of web development will reject it. Sure, those gate keepers are “bigoted” in this respect, but that’s their nature and they’re as dead-set in their thinking as the people who abhor them.

Now, you could ignore those gate keepers and create a whole new class of gate keepers. But, I submit the theory that it’ll be incredibly difficult, if impossible for any vendor to establish a long-lived developer ecosystem based on non-open technology. Even Java is feeling the pains of that theory.

In summary, Steve put it best. It was something like this: “They’re not going to fork the web. They’ll try to fork it.”

The Customer is Always Right, Barring That, Just Smile When They’re Wrong

With that context, then, my thinking for Adobe has become: they need to participate in the evolution of the web, not deliver the next version of it, take it or leave it. Most mature, closed source company suffer this same malady.

The results are things like those errant quotes from BEA’s execs about open source not working or from Adobe folks that the web is broken. The issue is not that they’re pointing to non-existent problems: the issue that their diction and phrasing indicates a disdain, real or perceived, for their targets.

Some companies have this less than others, and some are mostly cured. And, sure, as the many Friends of RedMonk at those and companies are quick to interject when we point this out incident-by-incident, “hey, we’re evolving as fast as possible!” Big companies, indeed.

Adobe and Mozilla

So, I was surprised and delighted to hear that Adobe is contributing it’s ActionScript/ECMAScript 4 VM and and JIT to Mozilla. From the questions and answer time I had with them, it didn’t seem like open source dumping. In fact, if I recall correctly, the folks working on it would be full-time dedicated to it.

While this may seem like a small thing, it signals that wider participation is at least possible, if not beginning to happen, where I didn’t see a possibility previously. And if the full-time part is correct, it means Adobe is “spending” their valuable developer time on open source. This “small” thing could turn into a larger, more positive force if Adobe gets involved with more of the open source world.

The same advice applied to any vendor, really. Widening to industry trends, I’ve begun to get the gut-feel that the population of Opensville is going to grow rapidly in the next year or so. Microsoft, of late, has been the most visible party that seems to have gotten the memo on being more participatory in open source, but I talk increasingly with more closed source folks who take the idea of being open and participatory seriously. Each are in “small” ways. But, again, they’re big companies, so any change takes time: you have to keep your eyes peeled for this little things.

So, time will still tell if this is a mole-hill on the way to becoming a mountain. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the event on it’s own is great: it’s only tragic that we’ll have to wait ’till 2008 for the pay-off. Pulling back to Adobe’s long term success, it’s a an indicator in the right direction, but we’ll need a lot more such indicators to call off my forking concerns completely.

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Categories: Community, Companies, Open Source, The New Thing.

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One Response

  1. Yes – IF the Web is broken, then the right answer is "let's fix it", NOT "let's make another one". Tamarin is probably a step in the right direction, now Adobe needs to stay on that track. Trying to fork the Web sounds like a great way to self-destruct …