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QCon - The Web Platform

This was an interesting session discussing the future of the web as a platform. The concept being that as the technology in the browser matures and grows, one might be able to move away from the plug-in platforms such as Flash and JavaFX to be solely based on browser technologies such as JavaScript and HTML.

Dion Almaer and Ben Galbraith, talked initially about a four "up and coming" technologies that could well transform the web "web platform". The first being Canvass that came out of Safari and has now spread to Firefox, Opera and Chrome. It allows a 2D drawing environment on which one can draw, opening the way for pure web applications to take control of the page, and move away from the document based text, image and rectangle model of 20th century web.

They demonstrated the Bespin in browser editor that is being developed by Mozilla Labs to show the power of Canvass, amongst the other technologies. Like Flash and JavaFX being able to draw arbitrary components natively in the browser means that one can move away from the problems of imposed by the document-centric model of today's applications.

Secondly, they discussed Fast JavaScript, with new JavaScript engines on the horizon one can see that web applications can be transformed. One will be able to do things when JavaScript is blindingly fast that one would not even consider today.

Next, was Web Workers, which follow on from Google Gears, to provide an environment for running functionality away from the main JavaScript thread, but without exposing all the issues associated with multi-threaded code. Having written code in Erlang, I'm pleased to see something like actor based concurrency coming to web applications. As the number of cores in CPUs increase over the next decade this sort of concurrency is going to be vital.

The final technology that they discussed was Desktop Integration, personally I'm a little sceptical about desktop integration in the browser due to the whole host of security issues that it exposes. However, having the ability to develop desktop applications using pure web technologies is very interesting and increases my options as a developer.

Of course the big elephant in the room is Internet Explorer, all of the items that they talked about are associated with Safari, Firefox, Chrome and Opera. They paid a little lip service to efforts to get them into Internet Explorer via plug-ins and ActiveX controls. Until Microsoft are involved and on board with these technologies then developers are still going to be stuck with the 20th Century web unless they use plug-in platforms such as Flash or suffer the constant battles of getting their software to work across all main browsers. Maybe now that Internet Explorer is loosing market share, Microsoft will step up to the plate and we can move forward, but I won't hold my breath.

This talk though did give me hope that we can move forward. That in the next few years we'll have a web platform that is compelling and powerful.