Infrequently Noted

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

Gears De-Brands

There are a lot of things about Open Source that are easy to get wrong, either intentionally or by accident. Given the number of folks who get it wrong, it's pretty clear that it takes real leadership for a project that's funded largely by a single company to commit to having external committers, manage IP rights in a responsible way, and really work to engage with a community outside of the folks who show up in the office every day. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that it takes real work to ensure that your project isn't just a code dump or even a read-only subversion repository that just happens to be released under an open license. Real, credible, honest-to-goodness, 100 point open source requires a effortful selflessness that rarely comes naturally to individuals and even less often to companies. I'm blessed to work for just such a company, but the web development landscape is littered with badge-ware, source-available-but-not-open projects, and other abuses of the spirit of the Open Source development model.

It's no small relief, then, to hear that Google is doing something incredibly mature: they're taking their name off of Gears. This comes in addition to their previous commitments to keep development truly open and to collaborate with anyone who will help them. From a purely corporate stand-point, it's the kind of move that takes cojones.

Google's de-branding of Gears stands in sharp contrast to Yahoo's half-assed Browser Plus effort which not only isn't Open Source, you can't even use it from non-Yahoo domains yet. It's impressive work technically, and Gears could learn some things from YBP's plugin architecture, but it's entirely unclear how such a closed product will help address the fundamental risk facing the web today: we need a trustable, open way to rev the web faster. One that can't be stopped in its tracks when a Microsoft or Netscape lose the interest or ability to push the web further on their own.

With Google's move, they're saying more clearly than ever to the Yahoo's of the world: "dude, seriously, put down the proprietary and help us make the web better". It's my sincerest hope that the Yahoo's, Ebay's and Amazon's, and IBM's of the world will all heed the call and work with Google to push a truly open Gears further, faster. The web needs the open process, mature leadership, and important feature set that Gears is delivering. No less.

Google I/O, In Retrospect

I went to Google I/O last week and thanks to DeWitt Clinton I gave a talk on where browsers are headed and if they can really get us where we want to go. I'm afraid that even more so than is usual for the talks I do with slides, this set is somewhat indecipherable without the actual talk along side it.

Slides are below in PDF format (6mb):

Sadly, I didn't make it to many of the sessions, but I was able to catch Brad's excellent talk on building a client-side searching utility with Gears. His demo app used a custom build of Dojo, which was exciting to see because not only was it stripping out stuff that he didn't need from the base dojo.js using the customBase build option, but he was also able to use the build system to alias dojo. to pt. so that it didn't conflict with other versions of Dojo on the page and also packed up all the modules into a single file. We've had each of these features in Dojo for a while, but seeing them used together was incredibly powerful. Dojo can act as "Dojo" or the basis for your own library without much more work. The demo itself (a client-side search engine) was also powerful. Brad used Gears' worker threads to parallelize the work of pulling fetching, tokenizing, and handling a site's content. The speedup in being able to move this kind of work into the background (potentially onto separate processors and cores) opens up a new world of potential applications. I've been thinking about the implications of a ubiquitous Gears ever since.

An aside: Google throws a hell of a party. The only thing I've seen comparable to it was the awesome time that Microsoft hosted at this year's MIX. Landing the Flight of The Conchords was quite the geek coup for I/O, particularly since most of us had no idea who would be playing. Considering that I also got to see David Capurro at yesterday's Laughing Squid party, I'm pretty blissed out on geek meme entertainment.

Update: video of my talk is up at the Google I/O site. The video should make the arguments somewhat more clear than the slides alone could (although on the downside you'll to suffer through my myriad "um"'s and "uhhh"'s). Also, Neil McAllister has a piece up today which summarizes some of the talk's points. I'm afraid the talk left him with the impression that I support natural monopolies when in fact I only raise questions about their formation in order to find ways to effectively break them (or hollow them out).

Older Posts

Newer Posts