These are the two best links I’ve read in the wake of the Flash and HTML5 brouhaha(s). They discuss other informative points too, but their biggest value lies in discussing three things, to which I’ll offer the answers that make the most sense to me:
- What is the web, really? “The web” is the cross-linked content, regardless of what in-browser/PC-based/phone-based generator/viewer/app is used to produce it and/or consume it.
- Does web == in-browser? No. Native apps can be web apps just as much so as in-browser ones, and increasingly many native apps are web apps. Conversely, not everything that runs in a browser is part of the web, even though most of them are for the obvious historical reasons.
- Is it necessary/desirable/possible to make in-browser apps be like native apps? No, maybe, and maybe. The jury is still out, but at the moment developers are still trying while some pundits keep decrying.
Here are the two articles.
Understand the Web (Ben Ward)
This rambly piece needs serious editing, but is nevertheless very informative. Much of the debate about Flash and/or HTML5 conflates two things: the web, and application development platforms. They aren’t the same thing, and in fact are mostly orthogonal. From the article:
Think about that word; ‘web’. Think about why it was so named. It’s nothing to do with rich applications. Everything about web architecture; HTTP, HTML, CSS, is designed to serve and render content, but most importantly the web is formed where all of that content is linked together. That is what makes it amazing, and that is what defines it.
… [in the confused Flash and HTML5 debates] We’re talking about two very different things: The web of information and content, and a desire for a free, cross-platform Cocoa or .NET quality application framework that runs in the browsers people already use.
On a different note, speaking of the desire for super-rich in-browser apps, he adds:
Personally, aside from all of this almost ideological disagreement over what the web is for, and what you can reasonably expect it to be good at, I honestly think that ‘Desktop-class Web Applications’ are a fools folly. Java, Flash, AIR and QT demonstrate right now that cross-platform applications are always inferior to the functionality and operation of the native framework on a host platform. Steve Jobs is right in his comments that third-party frameworks are an obstacle to native functionality.
HTML5 and the Web (Tim Bray)
Again, what “the web” is – and it has nothing specifically to do with HTML. From the article:
The Web is a tripod, depending critically on three architectural principles:
Pieces of the Web, which we call Resources, are identified by short strings of characters called “URIs”.
Work is accomplished by exchanging messages, which comprise metadata and representations of Resources.
The representations are expressed in a number of well-defined data formats; you can count on the message data to tell you which one is in use. It is essential that some of the representation formats be capable of containing URIs. The “Web” in WWW is that composed by the universe of Resources linked by the URIs in their representations.
That’s all. You notice that there’s nothing there that depends crucially on any flavor of HTML. Speaking only for myself, an increasingly large proportion of my Web experience arrives in the form of feed entries and Twitter posts; not HTML at all, but 100% part of the Web.
On Flash · This may be a side-trip, but anyhow: I entirely loathe Flash but by any definition it’s part of the Web. It works just fine as a resource representation and it can contain URI hyperlinks.
… Native Applications · A large proportion of the native applications on iPhone, and on Android, and on Windows, and on Mac, and on Linux, are Web applications. They depend in a fundamental way on being able to recognize and make intelligent use of hyperlinks and traverse the great big wonderful Web.
… So whatever you may think of native applications, please don’t try to pretend that they are (or are not) necessarily good citizens of the Web. Being native (or not) has nothing to do with it.