Scripting News: Where’s the app?

A picture named tr.gifIn the early days of the web, I remember (vaguely) marveling at the idea that I could put software in a machine that had a persistent connection and have it be accessible anywhere. This was great until I created something that became moderately popular and learned the wonders of scaling. And then I learned about ISPs who don’t react well to outages. After all that it didn’t seem so magical.

Today, almost 20 years later, we’ve pivoted to a new architecture and it’s got me puzzled again, at times, looking one way then another trying to find the app, and not getting it right at first — even though I wrote the app myself. Here’s what’s weird.

1. Because JavaScript has become such a powerful language that performs so well, you can literally put the code for an app in a web page. To install the app just visit the page. To update the app, reload. Amazingly simple.

2. But those apps have limited ability to store stuff. Little Outliner proved that even though there are limits, you can still create something useful that runs in the page, with absolutely nothing else. Every computer that runs a modern browser has decided that each virtual “site” can have a few megabytes of storage. That might not be a lot for movies or audio, but for outlines, it’s plenty.

3. Enter Dropbox, and presumably Microsoft SkyDrive, and Google Drive as well, with APIs that add another dimension to what a modern web app can do. Now instead of a few megs of storage that can only be accessed locally, and can’t be moved between computers, these services offer gigabytes of storage, and infinite mobility. The data moves as fluidly as the web itself. This coupled with in-browser JavaScript is enough to make a full-blown computer. The UI is handled by HTML. Logic by JS, and storage by the Box-Drives.

A user asked if Fargo could write to the local sub-folder of Dropbox even if he didn’t have a net connection. I actually had to think for a moment. No, it can’t. Think of the circuitous route the data goes through just to end up right back where it started. And think about all the efforts to sandbox web apps so they couldn’t get at the local hard drive. That barrier is gone. Now we have to trust the Box-Drive folks to make sure the sandboxes they maintain are really solid. So far they seem to meet the challenge.

But we are, once again, in a strange new world. Maybe there are ways it will get weary and will break. But if there are, we don’t know what they are yet. And for now, it’s just a mysterious kind of fun. The gee-whiz factor is high again. šŸ˜‰


About Dave Winer

Dave Winer, 54, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.
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