Sunday, 6 May 2012

Developers should not believe the HTML5 hype

As an Architect and Lead developer, I have to sit down with the non-techie and convince them why I think a technology or framework is the right one for a project and then I build my team to deliver the solution. The past two years or so, the marketing engine of technology companies have been spinning at full throttle. HTML5 is a the future, everything will run in the browser and more blah blah blah.
Don't get me wrong, HTML5 brings some good technologies to the web application developer. Nevertheless, I think there is a lot of hype as HTML5 doesn't really bring anything new to the table.
First of all, there are multiple type of applications that we are all well-aware of;

  • Consumer
  • Business
  • Enterprise

Consumer Application


If you are building a consumer oriented application which doesn't use any of the native functionality of OS, then I would recommend the application to be built in HTML5 and all the RIA fanfare that comes with it. You can best view this in the mobile space where developers build either native or web apps depending on the application requirement. Remember that web application (HTML5 ) do not have direct access to printers, USB port or any other hardware such as Bluetooth and network services. Simple word processing application that can be developed in HTML5 such as Google Doc (where this blog is typed from). I haven't come across any serious application written in HTML5 or the likes yet (JavaFX, Flash and Silverlight are not HTML5).

Business Application

Critical business application such as POS which requires access to barcode scanner as an example can't be written using HTML5. You can have a native application delivered through the browser such as Java Applets ( or JavaFX) using webstart. Java applets can access OS features and hardware and provides another layer of security. Business application are delivered in controlled environments, for example, the application can be deployed on Linux desktop in company "a" environment only. For as much "fanfare" one might create around HTML5, these type of application will not cease to exist.

Enterprise Application


Enterprise applications come in various forms, from desktop to servers. As this is a comparison to HTML5, I will only focus on desktop application. First, let take a financial company such as a stock brokerage firm. There is a reason why stock trading application run as closely to the OS as possible ( and also to the exchange), in one word, PERFORMANCE. Web browsers performance sucks regardless of which one you are using, JavaScript is just too slow to implement some of the logic. In the trading business, a millisecond is all that is required to lose millions of £. Can you for one second imagine building a Bloomberg trading platform using web technologies, that's laughable. There is a reason why the finance industry are still using Java Swing as their desktop technology of choice.

Conclusion

HTML5 is a promising step in the right direction to building scalable robust web application but it will not obliterate desktop applications, not today, not tomorrow, not ever (really!?). We can already see it in the mobile space where developers rather write native application so that they can utilize OS features and hardware. Web applications cannot access you local files directory (I am not talking uploading a file to a site) to read or write.  A simple operation such as reading available space in a directory or writing a log to a local directory is not possible (again I am not talking about downloading or saving a page). Therefore, developers should not believe the hype. HTML5 is not the silver bullet and it is a shame when companies such as Adobe sends mix-messages by discontinuing their Flex offering. Anyway, Adobe has never been a big player in the enterprise desktop application market.

If you disagree with my points, feel free to share your thoughts.

37 comments:

  1. Hi thanks for sharing the information.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I understand your POS\Barcode scanner scenario was just an example, but it was an incorrect example. Barcode, Mag Stripe and Proximity readers can all interface as a keyboard with standard ascii input and can be programmed to send carriage returns after reading the card. There are actually standard keyboards with reader slots built in. This would be usable by any computer program including a browser.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi, if you talk about business applications - I think in real life you will develop only the UI part in HTML and JS (or Dart) and the business logic (BL) will live on the server side.

    I asume your Application is already separated between UI and BL.
    In the future you have just one more choice for UI-Technology and we all know - UI stuff if much harder to port from one OS to the other then BL. So to me the idea about HTML as universal UI-Language is not a bad one ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Aniruddh Chitre7 May 2012 08:09

    I agree with this articles view that HTML 5 is hyped. It certainly has a role in the mobile space but its not the silver bullet. Also I would like to add that HTML 5 standard is still under development and it could undergo some changes.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm still looking for someone that can explain me why HTML5 is so 'AWESOME'.

    I agree with you, i also think that there is hype around HTML5.

    It has good things, but every problem needs its own solution.

    ReplyDelete
  6. @Miloskov (DZone commenter), Thanks for your feedback but I still don't believe that at all. Unless the HTML5 can fully implemented and compatible across all browsers ( you can see that right now with the different implementation in browsers), and have full access to hardware then I don't see it replacing all the desktop application such as point of sale. I don't know which barcode scanner you came across lately in you supermarket but they still require the hardware and fallback to a keyboard if the scanner did not work in the first place. So what about trading applications, have you came across any written in the browsers used by brokers. Maybe I should provide more examples but this was based on my experience and the industry I work in. HTML5 will be very useful as a standard and it has its place in developing application but we still need languages like Java and C++. Well I am sure that you know that you can develop iOS and Android application in C++. By the way, I do not need to go back to Java as that is the language I used on the daily basis even to write HTML5 based application (GWT, Vaadin, JSF Primefaces etc...).

    ReplyDelete
  7. Why does everyone insist on creating black and white comparisons between HTML5 and Native/Desktop apps? They can co-exist and each brings their own benefits. OK so you can't do everything using HTML5 - so what? Not all the thing you write need those features anyway.

    Access to barcode scanners and hardware can be easily done using Qt-Webkit or a desktop build of Phonegap - so why can't you use "HTML5" apps for this? I'm not saying you should but being so negative about the situation is wrong. I assume you've not dabbled in these technologies yet?

    I've used "HTML5" technologies extensively throughout my time in the Financial/Enterprise world - both in Desktop and Mobile. Haven't had an issue with performance so far (in fact in one occasion improved on it). Remember deploying a desktop application across a large global organization is next to impossible - in a recent company the cost of deploying an app was in the millions and a year later they only reached 80% of their target deployments. "Native" apps may be better but if people can't use them whats the point?

    The points you've made sound like the chants of old when the web swallowed the desktop market whole. But yes of course there are times when "HTML5" wont be a good fit - fact of life it's not a pancea - it's a technology.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So true, every new hype comes in as if it will solve world hunger. But in reality there is no one size fits all solution. Developer need to be really be mindful in picking up the right options for the project.

      Delete
  8. I came across this link yesterday which is right on the topic of not believing all the hype. http://www.paulgraham.com/icad.html

    It talks about pointy haired bosses who know little about technology and the rationale for their choices.

    its mantra is newer is not always better, but it presents another view entirely.

    Good reading for any solution architect.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Cross platform portability... the new mantra...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cross platform indeed...but wait, it doesn't even work the same on browsers running on the same platform (IE, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari etc...) so I guess we have a long way to go.

      Delete
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