Infrequently Noted

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

DWR Joins The Dojo Foundation, Joe Walker Joins SitePen

Dylan has the short-and-sweet writeup of what's happening with DWR and the Dojo Foundation and Joe Walker has a bit more Q&A. I can't really add much to the "news" bit of the news other than to say that I'm tremendously excited about it. The DWR community has been amazingly level-headed in its deliberations, and I can't wait to work with them in the future.

I've been concerned a bit that it may appear as though Joe joining SitePen may carry with it the perception that the Dojo Foundation is an arm of SitePen in some way or that DWR will now need to become Dojo-centric. Luckily neither is the case, although reading assurances to that effect on this blog should be taken with a grain of salt. The Foundation has an open door for deserving projects which need a good legal umbrella and don't want a lot of process or formality, and we've extended personal invitations to many non-Dojo-centric projects over the years to join (including direct competitors).

For anyone still worried about the DWR/DF arrangement, working it backwards from both perspectives should yield some comfort. It does very little good for Dojo to be shoved down someone's throat by the choice of some orthogonal tool in the same way that it would be tremendously foolhardy for the Foundation to lose its independence in any way. Neither would be very meritocratic and in particular the independence of the Foundation and its track record of providing a level playing field is most of what it has going for it. To that end, putting DWR at the Foundation and not under the getahead legal entity should help to make the distinction between commercial interest and community development even clearer than it previously was.

An umbrella organization to help support projects in meeting their goals is the under-appreciated bit of what separates successful stand-alone projects from projects which can't escape the yolk of either a closed development process or a sponsoring company that just can't let go of assumed control or brand affinity. Having your work backed by a legal entity is essential if you're not going to pick a GPL-ish license, but having that entity be a brand-neutral known quantity helps get projects adopted by organizations which have both lawyers and some experience with OSS. For component software like DWR, Cometd, and Dojo that's nearly all of the users which an OSS license alone won't convince. The independent nature of the Foundation also isolates users from the employment decisions of key contributors. Through the Foundation, Dojo's licensing has survived wholly in-tact through changes in employment status of nearly all of its most prolific contributors.

Having "external" committers, a reasonable process for minting new ones, and a peaceful atmosphere where developers can build trust along with software isn't rocket science but it does require some amount of prioritization of those concerns over personal and corporate directives. We're not perfect at this at the Dojo Foundation, and we haven't yet encountered the wrenching attempts at "brand drafting" which Apache deals with on a regular basis, but we're committed to keeping the process as hands-off as we can and working to ensure that the umbrella doesn't imply more than it really provides.

Our door is open. All that we require of new projects is that all committers on the project sign a CLA, that the lineage of the code be "clean" (within reason), that the project community is relatively healthy, and that you can convince the existing committers that yours is worthy of Foundation support. It has always been the intent of the Foundation to host projects that have nothing to do whatsoever with Dojo and it's my sincere hope that the DWR announcement drives this home, but we're not going to leave it to chance. More on this in a forthcoming post.

Until then, my congrats again to Joe and the entire DWR community. Thanks for giving the Foundation the opportunity to make good on the trust you've invested in us.

Go Molly! Go!

Finally, some progress from IE thanks to Molly's tenaciousness.

It's sad that it took Molly rhetorically tackling BillG on the topic to get more than witty asides out of the IE team, but beggars can't be choosers. To that end, we (the web development world at large) need to continue to follow up, not by asking for particular features, but by demanding continued openness and progress. We developers have suffered many broken promises and decrepit stewardship when it mattered most and the IE team has been harshly rebuked as a result. It's no wonder, then, that they're circumspect about promising anything concrete. To that end, I'm going to be focusing my questions to the IE team on some that I've previously blogged here. Namely:

  1. When will your next beta or alpha be available?
  2. What about the version after that?
  3. Is your organization standardizing the new stuff you added in the last stable release? Where?

These questions are explicitly designed to avoid trapping IE (or any other browser vendor) in a set of promises which they can't keep or forcing them to run laps in a standards body before they are ever allowed to try out anything new. Instead these questions focus on what we most fundamentally need: to know that the web will improve in a fashion relatively in line with past beneficial improvements.

Invent. Deploy. Standardize. In that order.

With that as the central goal, these questions also explicitly de-prioritize standards compliance in favor of larger improvements to the fabric of the web. A fully standards compliant IE8 won't buy the web any serious ammunition in the war to be the continued platform of choice for building new classes of applications. Only invention and real competition can spur those kinds of advances, and prioritizing standards compliance of any renderer above more radical and powerful forms of simplification (new tags, other HTML 5 features, Gears, etc.) seriously harms the web's chances against obvious closed-platform plays like Flex and Silverlight. We'll need standardization to solidify gains introduce in new renderers from any vendor, but without deployed solutions, the standards process is adrift in a sea of vaguely good ideas without market forces providing a prioritizing force.

This isn't to say that standards aren't important (or even critical), only to say that for the web development community to insist on that above all else is to miss the forest for the trees. Once we get answers on progress, we must obviously begin to ask about specifics, but the web development world must come to understand that without a commitment to real future progress, even amazing point releases or full standards compliance won't get us to where we want to go. We owe the IE team the breathing space to deliver something great, and they owe us a commitment to real, hands-on stewardship of their rendering engine.

Lets not miss an opportunity to move forward because we're stuck on the past, lest we all wake up one day to realize that in bickering about the late 90's we lost the important battles of the '00's by default.

@Media Ajax Wrap-Up

I've uploaded the slides for my talk from Day 2 of @Media Ajax, which was a refreshingly focused and high-quality conference. The single-track format combined with some really excellent speakers made me really regret missing any part of it. Huge congrats to Patrick and the Vivabit for putting on such a great couple of days.

On Slideshare

Wot Ho!

Today I'm flying out for a trip to Edinburgh and then on to London for the @media Ajax conference.

This will be my first trip to the UK, and I've been fitfully canvassing friends about what I should do and see while there, but I've barely had time to digest it. My usual M.O. of getting out a map and digesting the geography of the place I'm visiting is failing due to a complete lack of time so I'm going to lazy-web it (verbed!): what should I do in London?

Immunity

I don't write much about politics here, but the amnesty-for-telcos language which is being fought by the EFF really has my goat. The whole robo-fax-as-advocacy thing isn't really my style so what follows is the letter I sent to Senator Feinstein today after finding that her San Francisco office's voicemail box is full and that her Washington office isn't staffed on Saturdays either.

Senator Feinstein:

My name is Alex Russell, I'm a software engineer and a constituent of yours in the San Francisco district. I vote in every single election, federal, state, and local. I'm not "politically active" per sae, I don't consider myself a partisan for any party nor do I ever vote a straight party ticket. I just want to see deliberative government which considers the needs of voters seriously. I try to stay on top of issues, study seriously for elections, and come to reasoned positions about the matters before me as a citizen. It's strange then that this may be only the second time I've ever written my senator (previously I believe I wrote my senator in Indiana before I was of voting age...with predictable results).

The reason I'm writing is my incredulousness at your apparent support of the proposed language granting telco's immunity from prosecution for illegal acts taken on behalf of the executive branch (S. 2248, FISA Amendments Act of 2007). You take many policy stands which I disagree with, but this is beyond the pale. The current administration has run roughshod over the mutual respect necessary for our co-equal branches of government to function effectively on behalf of the people. I hardly need to cite examples of executive over-reach. They are before you and the committees on which you serve in the form of testimony nearly every week.

It is troubling then that your position on warrant-less wiretapping should be so blasé, so deferential in the face of a seemingly explicit policy from the executive which asserts that it is immune from oversight. The existing FISA statutes (before this years revisions) provide broad leeway to the executive and little scrutiny. This default policy of the FISA court in favor of lessened oversight then, in my opinion, casts it as the limit...the furthest down the path of creating a surveillance society that a democracy which is beholden to the rule of law can tolerate. What is being proposed in S. 2248 is something entirely different in character.

It is anathema to the concept of equality of the judiciary with the legislative and executive branches to suggest that when the legislative branch entices firms to act illegally on its behalf, shrouded by secrecy, that the people have no right to redress their wrongs through the judiciary when the legislative branch is too cowed or blind to hold the executive to account. This is exactly what is being proposed. It is one thing for Democrats in congress to fail to act with regards to what is plainly illegal behavior by the executive. I understand and appreciate the concerns and constraints which lead you and your colleagues to ignore the will of the people in the short term. But I cannot fathom a strong case for stripping the judiciary of its oversight role as well. Please, I implore you, do not cave to this.

I fully agree with those who suggest that it may be sub-optimal for the proxies of the administration to take a fall for the administration's illegal acts, but I do not see where the case of civil society and the rule of law can turn when redress through the courts is removed as the backstop on the slippery slope of executive power. The fourth estate has already failed us here and congress has been unwilling to strongly challenge this illegal behavior. If the congress is to have a hope of addressing this behavior on a legislative basis in the future, someone needs to be able to shine sunlight into the illegal activities of the administration. If congress is unwilling to take it up, then at least allow the courts their right.

Please, Senator Feinstein, denounce, work against, and vote against the proposed language which grants amnesty to secrecy, thereby giving anyone who can wield the language of security and the privilege of secrecy the force of law to do as they will.

Regards

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