I spoke on a panel at Mashup Camp this week on why Ajax Standards matter. I was quoted by Doug Henschen of Intelligent Enterprise as saying that we are locked in a struggle for the soul of the web, so I thought I would expand on that theme.
Just because the web has been open so far doesn't mean that it will stay that way. By open, I mean that content has been searchable, linkable and servable without paying fees.
Flash and Silverlight, arguably the two market-leading technology toolkits for rich media applications are not open. You cannot search Flash content, you cannot link to it and if you want to serve up flash content on your web site, you need to pay for a server license.
If the future of the web lies in rich media and if these trends continue, we may well see a very different world emerge from Web 2.0.
More importantly, Flash and Silverlight work by installing a proprietary plug-in to your browser, thus opting out of the entire browser infrastructure. If you are a plug-in vendor, your incentive is to keep the browser as dumb as possible.
The worse the underlying browser is at rendering rich widgets and media, the more developers and users will want your plug-in. If you are both the vendor of a browser (say IE) as well as the proponent of a plug-in (say Silverlight), then the incentives get truly twisted.
WaveMaker has a big stake in this debate because we chose to build our WYSIWYG development tools on top of the Dojo Toolkit. We picked Dojo because WaveMaker is targeting enterprise developers who need not just nice color pickers but also sortable and pageable grids, solid internationalization and accessibility capabilities.
Ajax standards groups like the Open Ajax Alliance (under the leadership of Jon Ferraiolo)serve a important role today in helping to highlight the differences between open solutions like Dojo and proprietary solutions. They also are helping to drive the maturity of open Ajax toolkits by focussing attention on important areas like security and internationalization.
Microsoft was the rendering engine for client/server, which paid them enormous dividends. Microsoft IE was somewhat accidentally the victor in rendering engine for Web 1.0 after Netscape fumbled their lead, although they were never really able to monitize this particular monopoly.
Make no mistake - Microsoft and Adobe aim to have their proprietary plug-ins, aka pseudo-browsers, become the rendering engines for the next generation of the Web. Without a strong push for open Ajax standards, they just might get their way.