Tug of War

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2008-08-18 Print this article Print

Besides, Adobe was not the only one to innovate ahead of the standards. "Like Adobe, Microsoft has jumped ahead in the evolution of JavaScript via the seemingly forgotten JScript.NET," Russell said. "Like Adobe, Microsoft has had to come back from that position to meet the Web where it really is. Microsoft now ships three-yes, that's right, three-JavaScript-ish languages which are capable of running in a browser: JScript (via Windows Scripting Host), JScript.NET and JScript for the DLR [Dynamic Language Runtime] (via Silverlight). Make no mistake about it; these are all separate implementations, which likely share little if any code."

Russell in his even-tempered argument added:

Microsoft can still hold the web hostage to their ailing WSH VM [Windows Script Host virtual machine] by continuing to ignore its performance, regardless of bug fixes and syntactic updates. Doesn't matter if it's amputation or debilitating arthritis, crippled is crippled. For what it's worth, my interactions with the Microsoft reps on TC39 give me no reason to believe that they won't be improving their VM. And Adobe can still choose to implement a language which implements an ECMA spec. They can do this any time they damn well please. It may not align so cleanly with their current technology road map, but it's absolutely feasible...

Moreover, Russell said what "died" with the announcement of the Harmony effort was not Adobe's attempt to "own" a specification. "What died was an assumption that the Web can evolve without implementations being out in front of the spec. AS3 was one implementation of a JavaScript-like language that might have been a contender for crown of 'the next one,' but so was JScript.NET. That neither of them 'won' simply because they had been built in good faith is as true a sign as I can find that the process is working ... Let's end the silly meme that 'Adobe lost' or that 'Microsoft won.' The game has hardly begun and it won't be settled in a standards body anyway. What matters-and what we all need to keep our eyes keenly trained on-is what the big implementations do in the way of compatibility, performance and feature set once ES3.1 arrives."

Well put, Alex.

In his post, Resig described some of the history leading up to Harmony, noting that there was tension between the ECMAScript 3.1 and 4.0 groups. Essentially, Microsoft and Yahoo were pushing for minor changes and bug fixes to ECMAScript 3 and started the ECMAScript 3.1 effort as a step toward ECMAScript 4.

"These two groups continued to work side by side, but a struggle was inevitable," Resig said. "The ECMAScript 3.1 group wanted to add changes to the language that would affect the result of ECMAScript 4. This struggle over the past year finally came to a head this past month at the meeting of TC39 (the committee responsible for both ECMAScript 4 and ECMAScript 3.1). Dubbed 'the Oslo meeting,' this discussion between the two groups saw an ultimate conclusion: The two efforts had to be merged, otherwise neither one would succeed."

Dave McAllister, an Adobe engineer familiar with the process, said in an Aug. 15 blog post:

Unfortunately, as is the case with many standards, the situation became a tug of war. Standards aren't just about the good of the community; they are also now recognized as competitive advantages. A new standard for ECMAScript thus became mired in a morass of bickering, infighting, and sometimes out and out name calling; the politics of competition. It became clear that members could not arrive at the consensus needed to allow a decade of advancements to be incorporated into the next generation of ECMAScript.

Mike Chambers, also an Adobe engineer, blogged that "ActionScript 3 is not going away, and we are not removing anything from it based on the recent decisions. We will continue to track the ECMAScript specifications, but as we always have, we will innovate and push the Web forward when possible (just as we have done in the past)." Indeed, "ActionScript 3 isn't changing and we are not going to dumb down future versions of ActionScript," Chambers said. "We are going to continue to innovate on the Web with the Flash Player..."

Russell said Adobe gets it. Based on the McAllister and Chambers posts it would appear Adobe does. But mostly it seems Ecma gets it. Let's just hope this attempt at Harmony does not get mired in yet another tug of war.

Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.

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