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RE: WHEN WILL WEB BROWSERS BE COMPLETE?
2020-10-31 02:46PM
A follow-up.
There has been some great conversation around the opinion piece. Having read all
200+ comments on YCombinator and Gist GitHub, I think it's most productive to
respond to them all in this follow-up piece.
The piece will be structured by looking at what I think are the most relevant
critiques and comments, followed by adding context to others' comments, and
finish with the random ones. For brevity I will only quote a short portion of
the comments but I will reference them.
S 1. CLARIFICATIONS AND FURTHER QUESTIONING
One thing I need to clarify before anything is my usage of "Web" and "Internet".
I understand the Web exists in the Internet, and the Internet is not the Web.
The topic is specifically about the Web. The Internet will never be "complete"
in the sense a city, country or the planet will never be "complete". There are
always things to improve.
As a quick summary of the general conclusion of the original text, it seems the
consensus is Web browsers will be complete when our underlying OSs are
complete, to which most said they never will be.
It seems my guess of "we are close to finishing Web browsers since they are
already close to our OSs" was naive in retrospective. It's made me realize
something more important:
Do we want Web browsers to be an operating system?
I look forward to what people think. Personally all I want out of my Web browser
is what browsers originally did: document transfer. For this I think systems
like Gopher and the somewhat new Gemini are in good position to continue growing
in the hobbyist realm. I think if a prominent figure were to enforce a
minimal set of HTML and HTTP it would be even better (this is the gist I get
from a lot of others too).
S 2. NO, THE WEB IS (NOT) STANDARDS?
The title sums up the general confusion (mine too) about what we agree the Web
is.
And with that, let's look at the comments, starting with chrismorgan:
> So what is the Web? Well we can agree the Web is a conglomerate of
standards proposed by the W3C.
No, I can’t agree with that because it hasn’t ever been true.
[...talks about IE Era Web...] Nowadays, if you say, "what is the
web?", you must include specifications from at least IETF (e.g. HTTP),
WHATWG (e.g. HTML), W3C (e.g. CSS) and Ecma (e.g. JavaScript); but
actual browser behaviour (an extremely vague concept) must also be
considered too, because it has a big impact on what the web is.
(R1)
My original text intended to reflect what I see as the "professional view" of
what the Web is. The replies reveal this mentality is not general; the
consensus seems split between what is encountered in reality versus what's
specified. It was my mistake to ignorantly specify the W3C as the only
standards committee involved in Web standards. As said by chrisseaton, "Yes I
think that's the impression they try to create." (R2) From this I'm curious:
what entities are part of these four committees? Is this question even
important to the topic?
An overarching theme I'm seeing in all these committees is that they are
"steering groups", all of which are composed of a small group of large
technology companies: Cisco, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, F5 Networks, Apple,
Ericsson, Mozilla, and so on. (R3, R4, R5) W3C seems to be the only committee
which is extremely diverse. (R6) ECMA in-particular seems extremely prestigous:
Ordinary members are companies which have interest and experience in
matters related to one or more Technical Committees of the Association,
and which wish to exert the right to vote at the General Assembly and
to exert other exclusive rights defined in the By-laws and Rules (see
By-laws, 3.8).
For this category of membership, the annual fee is CHF 70’000.-.
(R5)
I think it's accurate to say the Web is whatever the steering groups decide it
is. From this we can ask: is it in their interest for Web browsers to be
complete? Probably not; it makes economic sense to continue to build for as long
as possible to keep a flow of interest and suspense. Obviously extremely
debatable and I'm sure I could be swayed any way. I'm not saying either that the
economics are good or bad, they just "are".
Some other comments too which bring up the point that usually standards follow
implementations:
pgt: Standards are usually written after the implementation. (R7)
totallymike: Decent point. If my recollection is accurate, a number of
browsers or other implementations must already implement something before it can
become standard. (R8)
This is evidence at least that our perception is that browser vendors control
the direction of the Web. I have no concrete evidence to include in this
follow-up so I feel I'm obligated to say this, but I'm sure there is some hard
proof out there.
S 3. OLD NEWS
A lot of people took my opening "since 2007" statement as that's when I first
touched the Web, and what I feared would happen exactly happened. Because of
this I need to add some context. For all this is worth though, age is pretty
much irrelevant to the subject; someone who is 13 years old today can easily
read about the history of the Web and make the same conclusions as me or anyone
else.
Timpy: That 2007 passage really brought me to a grinding hault.
Toddlers are using the web these days from the moment they can swipe a
screen. I have a hard time believing anybody on GitHub over the age of
20 only began using the internet in 2007.
(R18)
I am 26 years old. From about 8-12 I had access to a computer, and between those
ages I had used the Web and the Internet intermittently but not as a daily
activity. I should say that it was around 2007, and not since 2007, I had
started to use the Web daily. I remember Internet Explorer being the only thing
people used, and the odd time seeing Netscape and not much longer Firefox. I was
part of this time but to me to say I was using the Web since the first time I
touched is not fair.
madrox assures that I have some recency bias:
As someone who has been using the Web since 1994 (and I feel like I was
late to the game), I can assure the author their perspective has a lot
of recency bias and this isn't something to worry about, in the general
sense. Or worry about it, because it already happened a while ago. Take
your pick.
(R9)
I don't understand how they can possibly say they were late to the game. The Web
was literally created in 1989. (R10) I also don't understand how they can say
what has happened already did. The Web is an entire different beast today.
rmason backs this up:
You literally couldn't have used the web much earlier than 1994 unless
you were running a NeXT machine. I know because I've been on the net
since 1988 and 1994 was when I first started browsing the web.
(R19)
People dreaded using Internet Explorer. People do not dread using Chrome. People
do not roll their own their browsers, but fork Chromium (as madrox says). The
rest of the comment concludes we end up with a Stadia-like experience, which
many predict is a probable future. This I can totally agree with. To conclude,
from the perspectiev of this comment, Web browsers are complete when we have
reached a Stadia-like experience, where we are not really using Web browsers
anymore (which is another point which has been brought up many times in the
comments).
S 4. MULTIPLE THEORIES
Here are multiple theories which are all fair in their own right.
Ericson2314: No professionally-written software is every complete,
thanks to Conway's law and the need to have a job under capitalism.
(R11)
nottorp: When it doesn't make business sense to embrace and extend any
more. (R12)
amelius: They will be complete when we realize that they can be better
implemented as generic virtual machines. (R13)
peterwwillis: The browser becomes the OS and then that OS will get a
browser. (R14)
api: Web browsers won't ever be complete. They will bloat until the
standard is abandoned and something leaner replaces it, like everything
else. (R15)
akrymski: Alternative end game: the browser dies slowly, gradually
being replaced by native apps. (R16)
mschuetz: Web browsers are just getting started, in my opinion.
Browsers already are the most effective way to share content with a
massive audience, and WebGPU and WebXR are going to lead to a whole lot
of new types of content.
My favorite is probably peterwwillis's. The browser will be complete when you
basically have to re-implement Fuschia kernel and user-space programs :).
S 5. WRAPPING UP
After reading everyone's opinions, my new opinion is Web browsers will tend to
never finish because they are an extension of our evolving society and need to
be updated to constantly meet these new needs. As many have said they will
probably trend toward becoming more server-side as time moves forward, due to
increasing compute power, and the added control and stability it offers.
S 6. EXTRA
Some have pointed out the format I'm using to make these posts. While I've used
blogger for years (ecc-comp.blogspot.com), I'm now abandoning it all. I've
realized I don't need special font rendering, automatic indexing, or perfect
typesetting when writing. I want my text to be rendered as easily as possible.
What you see is what you get. I'm growing a personal set of plain text
manipulation tools so that multi-column, justification, indexing, table of
contents and other features are easily done. I will share them in the coming
months as I improve them. You will probably notice a few oddities in this
document!
And I use gist because it's the most convenient place to put the posts for now.
I will have a domain dedicated to my writing in the coming months, where the
main page is an rss feed and nothing else. I want to push thought invoking to
people who care about it. I want people to detach from the limitations of
Twitter, Facebook, Reddit as places of publishing to places of discussion only.
Read you later alligators.
REFERENCES
R1 https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24917780
R2 https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24919147
R3 https://www.ietf.org/about/groups/iesg/members/
R4 https://whatwg.org/ (Check © at bottom)
R5 https://www.ecma-international.org/memento/ordinary.htm
R6 https://www.w3.org/Consortium/Member/List
R7 https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24919220
R8 https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24918371
R9 https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24916303
R10 https://webfoundation.org/about/vision/history-of-the-web/
R11 https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24918909
R12 https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24919412
R13 https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24916845
R14 https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24917374
R15 https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24917936
R16 https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24923304
R17 https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24919891
R18 https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24918040
R19 https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24916782
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