Joe Hewitt is not without credentials. Pretty solid credentials. The man participated in Firefox development, worked at Netscape (remember Netscape?), and was the author of the Facebook application for iPhone. And that’s just some of the stuff he has done. Of importance to what follows, he quit development on the iPhone Facebook app in protest over Apple’s review policies; so he is not to be confused with the standard issue Apple fanboy blogger.
I want desperately to be a web developer again, but if I have to wait until 2020 for browsers to do what Cocoa can do in 2010, I won’t wait.
Google, whose entire existence is, by this time, predicated on the success of the web app paradigm, has been quick to respond to Hewitt, claiming that his criticisms apply more to the web of two years ago (you know the web sans Chrome!). But it was only few days later that one of Google’s flagship products, Gmail, was outfitted with a feature that has existed on desktops for more than a decade: drag and drop file attachments to email messages.
Unfortunately for web surfing humanity, Hewitt’s youthful angst is directed not at the rush to web applications or at the purveyors of the interface products (namely browsers, extensions and toolkits), but the W3C and web standardisation “commies”. Defending the many “innovations” of Microsoft Internet Explorer at the turn of the millennium, Hewitt bemoans the persecution (“bullying”) of the anti-commie crusading innovator and underdog (Microsoft, as per Hewitt, is an underdog because IE’s share was a meagre 10% in comparison to Netscape’s 90%) by the lethargic standards bodies and the Department of Justice, and finally web developers themselves crying out for less innovation, putting at peril the future of the web.
I am not sure how much of this argument needs refutation or commentary. On the one hand, they are cobbled together from snippets of Hewitt’s thoughts (tweets) and it would be a misrepresentation of Hewitt to present them as a cohesive argument or factual record. On the other hand, many of the exaggerated terms employed by Hewitt are self-refuting: does it need pointing out that web developers call[ed] for standardisation not as a cry for lesser innovation, but as a requisite for stable development? Or that Microsoft’s unchallenged domination of the desktop endowed their free browser a tremendous advantage (not captured by initial market share numbers), long before Netscape’s hubris destroyed their product?
Cocoa is a sophisticated user interface and development framework backed by a powerful development tool (XCode). Before Microsoft was Hewitt’s innovation leader in web technology, they pushed desktop development using languages and IDEs such as the Visual* suite. Even the much-maligned (and unfairly so) X Windows environment came with Openlook or Motif (among other options). Together, these libraries and IDEs also provided a higher-level interface and necessary abstractions that rid the developer of mundane and low-level chores. And this is where web development finds itself at disadvantage in comparison to the desktop.