Yahoo Sees Standards as Key to Open Web

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2009-10-09 Print this article Print

Among the key issues in the Internet space today is the ongoing struggle between openness and stability in terms of standard Web technology, said a Yahoo Web technology expert. Doug Crockford, a JavaScript expert at Yahoo, calls on his company and others to not "break the Web" as they each vie for developer hearts and minds.

NEW YORK -- Among the key issues in the Internet space today is the ongoing struggle between openness and stability in terms of standard Web technology, said a Yahoo Web technology expert.

Doug Crockford, Chief JavaScript Architect at Yahoo and creator of the JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) said this struggle is being felt across the industry at different levels and is becoming a point of concern in the standards bodies governing Web technologies. Crockford spoke with exclusively with eWEEK at the Yahoo Open Hack Day here on October 9.

Crockford, also a member of the Ecma Technical Committee 39 (TC39), which is working on ECMAScript -- from which JavaScript is derived -- said, "At Ecma we're being really careful to not break the Web."

Breaking the Web would mean making the wrong choice on the evolution of a key standard technology that could impact compatibility, or security, reliability or any of a series of "-ilities," Crockford said.

"Most of the stuff in JavaScript isn't useless, it's just dangerous, and that's true for HTML, CSS and a lot of other Web technologies," Crockford said. "The issue is how do we fix it without breaking it? For now we've been content putting stuff on top of it, but that can only last so long." So the effort of the standards bodies is to find a way to extend these technologies without "breaking" them.

For example, with the ECMAScript, the TC39 committee abandoned an effort to deliver a fourth version of ECMAScript that advanced the language but also had some features that caused concern for some members, Crockford said. Instead, the committee agreed up a new specification, known as the "Harmony" release, which will incorporate changes and new features amenable to all members. The Harmony release is not expected to be available until at least two years from now. However, in the interim TC39 has committed to deliver a new version of ECMAScript -- known as version 5 -- that advances the language and fixes some of the problems developers have noted.

"The fifth edition of ECMAScript includes some important improvements to the specification," Crockford said. Specifically, the fifth edition features better security, native JSON support, enhanced library support and more, Crockford said.

The fifth edition of ECMAScript is expected in December, Crockford said. A new ECMAScript release has been a long time in coming. The last version, version 3, came out 10 years ago -- in December 1999.

Meanwhile, Crockford said the versioning of the Harmony release is still up in the air, but it will likely be named ECMAScript 6.

"There's a really good language buried deep inside JavaScript," he said. For instance, the Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) community is doing some "amazing things" with JavaScript, he added.

Crockford credited Microsoft with having created AJAX, which the software giant openly touts. However, "they were blindsided by their own success," he said. Crockford added that he believes Microsoft figured that innovation on the core construct technologies on the Web was finished "and they went on to build Avalon [the code name for Microsoft Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF)]. Their JScript implementation was such a remarkable implementation of JavaScript. It was that commonality that made AJAX happen. So they absolutely invented it."

However, although praising Microsoft on one hand, Crockford criticized the software giant on another -- Internet Explorer 6. He called the recently announced Google Chrome Frame technology, which enables users to cover IE6 with Google's Chrome browser technology, a "clever hack. The Web development community has a problem with IE6. The core set of IE6 users will likely never upgrade. And the problem is we're never going to get all these people to use the plug-in. It's an embarrassment for Microsoft." 

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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