When Peter Yared, chief executive and founder of LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and Perl/PHP/Python) middleware startup ActiveGrid realised he needed project management software to coordinate his company’s development work, he tried Microsoft Project 2003.
The experiment didn’t last long. “2003?” Yared asks incredulously on his blog. “This code hadn’t been touched in three years!” What’s more, the features and functions simply weren’t compelling, he writes. So, Yared switched to Basecamp, a web-based application that also served as the proving ground for the now popular Ruby on Rails web application framework. The upshot? Basecamp “rocks”, Yared writes.
Likewise, despite no official model for local storage, various mechanisms exist. Internet Explorer 5 introduced a limited persistence capability called “the userData behaviour”. Tibco’s general interface, which is a powerful AJAX toolkit, uses the browser’s cache to store and retrieve XML files. BEA’s Alchemy project, which is aimed at formalising the idea of a browser-accessible XML data store, has yet to emerge, but it’s reasonable to suppose that it will do so in some form.
In the end, the various approaches — including browser-based applications, hybrids involving Java applets or Flash components and on-demand technologies such as Java Web Start and .Net ClickOnce — must all deliver the same goods: universal reach, rich behaviour, secure execution and secure access to local storage. In this age-old battle on four fronts from which no single victor is likely to emerge, the lines have recently been redrawn. The AJAX revolution of 2005 showed that the browser’s unparalleled reach could be combined with unsuspected richness.
Of course we’ve also seen old security issues resurface, as when the HTTP client capability of Firefox’s Greasemonkey extension was found to be vulnerable and had to be temporarily neutered. There was nothing new there — and nothing specific to Firefox or the browser-based approach in general. If we want software as a service, and we most assuredly do, we’ll continue to wrestle with the trade-offs between what partially trusted and demand-loaded software can do for us — and what it can do to us.
Udell is lead analyst at the InfoWorld Test Centre. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org