I’m admittedly being a bit glib in my title. Can innovation and advancement of the web platform occur at all, given the temporal straight jacket that standards bodies sometimes impose? There are certainly proprietary platforms that leverage the web (Flash and Silverlight) and developers do happily bivouac in them, building some fairly compelling stuff. Some even argue that these proprietary platforms push the envelope more than what the web can do by itself, given the stagnancy of standards bodies.
But let’s talk about the web platform. Stagnant, really? Innovation at Mozilla ultimately manifests itself as innovation for the web platform. Let’s leave the intricacies of the standards process for another discussion — it isn’t ideal, and big questions about consortia (like W3C and ECMA) are probably valid ones. Great ideas are vetted for interoperability in forums such as the WHATWG, and the W3C’s WebApps WG, and we browser vendors deliver as rapidly as feasible on implementations (some are slower than others — you know who you are). Both IE8 Beta and Firefox 3 now support postMessage, for example, so talk of AJAX methodologies being stagnant ought to be revisited. And support of Canvas2D in browsers such as Opera, Safari, and Firefox results in stellar innovations such as processing.js, which — any “open platform” chauvinism on my part notwithstanding — gives Flash a royal run for its money.
Evolving the AJAX backbone essentially means adding new capabilities to the
XMLHttpRequestobject, which is really the skinny man on stilts behind the AJAX wizard. Currently, the
XMLHttpRequestobject (abbreviated XHR) can’t cross the single domain threshold, but we’re working on a “mitigation” mechanism to allow cross-domain access called Access Control, which will be used by API containers such as XHR Level 2. Allowing Cookies and HTTP-Authentication mechanisms for safer cross-domain mashups is controversial, certainly, and safety is paramount. Amongst the topics to consider are interoperability with Microsoft’s equally controversial
XDomainRequestobject, introduced in IE8 Beta. The WebApps Working Group’s progress has been good; I expect this feature to be released in Firefox 3.next. Our long term goals ought to be to clean up the existing legacy of “ad-hoc” cross-domain access mechanisms on the web, and introduce safer primitives to give developers the capability of doing safe mashups.
postMessage. Use cases envision dedicated “background” processes happening asynchronously (and communicating with other processes on the spawning page). Proposals abound; Google Gears, WHATWG, and Mozilla’s DOM Worker Threads all have skin in the game, and we’re all working to arrive at a single straw person which will evolve either in the WHATWG or in the W3C WebApps WG, where it was proposed.
Introducing SVG capabilities in CSS goes some of the way towards addressing the concern that the web stack consists of separate technologies that don’t “live together” well. Mozilla’s Robert O’Callahan blogged first about extending SVG’s notions of
clip-path, and then about extending SVG paint servers. The resultant demos are …. just pretty darn awesome. In an ideal world, these would be extensions to the CSS charter, since these make the capabilities of SVG exposed to CSS.
Anyone that thinks the web is standing still while proprietary models out-maneuver us ought to be disabused of that notion.