Infrequently Noted

Alex Russell on browsers, standards, and the process of progress.


Apparently a new XUL app called "ajaxWrite" was just launched. I think this thing is going to be my poster child for what's wrong with single-renderer markup languages from now on. It might be a fine app, I haven't used it long enough to have a strong opinion, but its marketing is truly reprehensible. I'm sure someone assured Michael Robertson that they couldn't launch a web-ish app without tacking the word "ajax" in the title and the folks with sense were shouted down. A pity.

This thing is appropriating the necessarily amorphous terminology of "Ajax" for an implementation that is directly at odds with why Ajax is an important technology. A XUL app being billed as "Ajax" is just as laughable as a Flex or XAML app suddenly growing the same moniker. That it's Mozilla's walled-garden language doesn't really excuse the gaffe.

But, I hear you ask, aren't Firefox/MoFo our only hope?

Perhaps, but only insofar as Firefox is a good HTML and SVG renderer. XUL is not a standard. No one else implements it, and it's not likley that anyone else ever will. And that's OK. What's not OK is when these walled-garden-web technologies start getting passed off as somehow being more open, more cost-lowering than they really are. The unspoken promise of Ajax is that it makes cross-browser apps that are more responsive possible. Stunts like "ajaxWrite" not only break the contract locally, they start to cast aspersions on the efforts of scripters everywhere who are dedicated to an open application platform.

The web has succeeded in part because in trade for control over UIs, businesses gained the ability to deploy to everyone everywhere. In a world where the web is how business gets done, "cross platform" really means "cross browser". Single-render apps are bad for the web and bad business. What (aside from a larger potential to succeed as an app) would have the functional "open vs. closed" difference been if this thing had been written in Flex? Or XAML? All of these platforms are highly capable. More capable than the Open Web is today, but they are not the Open Web. The term "Ajax" is a proxy and an ambassador for Open Web technologies today. The message that "javascript works now" means that the same kinds of universal access to information that the static web made possible is now available to application authors. But not if shameless marketing shills co-opt the term to mean something that's harmful to the web. "ajaxWrite" is just such an abomination.

So I'm calling on Michael Robertson to do the right thing and rename this product. A quick check shows "" as still being available. There's still time to change course. Still time to avoid giving the Open Web the bird.