Jeremy Morgan

Mostly Coherent Ramblings of a Silicon Forest Software Developer

What a Time Traveler Would Tell You About the Future of the Web


Author:


As a web developer you have to be somewhat of a psychic. To survive in this industry you must forecast the future and prepare for it. If I had a crystal ball and asked about web development, I’d tell you to grab a JavaScript book.

There’s no argument HTML 5 is a part of the equation but for the dynamic, logic driven software of the web JavaScript is becoming a top choice.


JavaScript Goes From Geek to Chic

"The Future of The Web" Remember about a decade ago when everyone hated JavaScript? You only put it on your website if you absolutely had to. When you thought of JavaScript back then it was popups, redirects, cheesy scrolling marquees and disabling the right mouse button.

JavaScript did do some weak form validation but other than that it was a nuisance. So many people had disabled JavaScript in their browser we had to code around it.

These were dark times for JavaScript and many developers, myself included, considered it a poorly implemented gimmick of a language that was almost worthless. In the mid 2000s Ajax, Gmail and jQuery changed all of that. The JavaScript renaissance began, as did a web revolution. JavaScript soon became a keystone technology that was nearly written off just a couple years earlier.

I don’t have to tell you that we also had another revolution involving phones, tablets and social media that also had a part in bringing JavaScript back into prominence. Today it’s very hard to find a website that isn’t using JavaScript in some way. It’s not exactly a brave leap to say it’s going to get more important in the future.


Why is JavaScript Usage Growing So Fast?

There’s little disputing that fact that JavaScript is on the move, but there are several theories as to why. I believe accessibility is a very large part of this.

"The Future of The Web" If you want to be a JavaScript developer the barriers to entry are pretty low. To develop it you need what any modern OS already has: a text editor and browser. You don’t need serious hardware to run it, and it’s easy to learn. It’s a giant magnet for those curious about coding.

There is a new JavaScript Framework being created every minute, and some of them are really good. The most popular of course is jQuery and it’s so powerful entire books are written about some of the stuff you can do with it. Installing a JavaScript framework is simple as including a text file on your site. Dependencies are incredibly easy to manage. Plus if you see something cool in JavaScript, you can always view the source and steal it or modify it for your own uses.

There’s no question as a developer it’s great, but as an end user it’s also pretty handy that everyone has a browser, most of them support JavaScript well and it doesn’t require plugins or cutting edge hardware. It’s easy for everyone.


What’s happening now

"The Future of The Web" This is such an exciting time to be a web developer. We have so many things that are disrupting the way the we build webpages and if you’re anything like me that makes it so much more fun.

Today:

  • PCs are being shut off and put in the closet.
  • Even laptops are outdated and clunky.
  • People are browsing the web with a phone or tablet.
  • The browser wars are now about speed and portability, not proprietary features.
  • Tech savvy youth have more tools and ideas than ever before.
  • Microsoft Windows is far from the only game in town.
  • Social Media shortens the cycles for everything we do.
  • Cloud computing is changing the way we think about hosting, and scaling applications.
  • Software as a Service (SAAS) is taking over.
  • Social Coding on sites like GitHub and Stack Overflow are exploding with popularity.
  • Open Source Software is mainstream, and dominating the landscape.
  • APIs have gone from an afterthought or perk to a necessity.

So how are the big players responding to these changes? With solutions revolving around JavaScript. Solutions like Node.js that run JavaScript as a service. Why would you want to do that? For starters it’s the same language on both sides of the transaction, scales out to many concurrent processes and uses non-blocking I/O and uses streams for input and output. Node.js is highly underrated right now, but I have a feeling it’s going to be the next big thing, very soon.

Signs that point to a great future for JavaScript:

  • It’s supported on just about everything.
  • Node.js is taking off in a major way. It’s simply a good idea whose time has arrived.
  • Google developed the V8 JavaScript Engine that converts JavaScript to native machine code.
  • Google has hosted libraries set up that host many popular frameworks.
  • Much of Windows 8 development will be centered around HTML5 and JavaScript.
  • Microsoft has also created a superset called TypeScript to take JavaScript to the next level for enterprise use.
  • HTML 5 has turned the browser based gaming world on it’s head, and many JS libraries are being developed as game engines.
  • JSON. Need I say more?

The list could be much longer, but the point is big, smart companies are investing time, resources and money into JavaScript, and if you’re a web developer who doesn’t know it, you’re already behind the curve.


JavaScript is Not Our Silver Bullet

"The Future of The Web" This is my interpretation of current trends and a basic forecast, in no way am I saying JavaScript is the superior language. JavaScript is facing some stiff competition from technologies like CoffeeScript and Dart that are superior in many ways. Most of these spawned competitors were inspired by a long list of problems with JavaScript.

JavaScript and HTML 5 are replacing Flash and ActionScript in the web based gaming arena, not because it’s better but because development is easier and more devices support it natively. This is what’s really important now.

The .Net framework is one of the most complete, robust and advanced platforms ever created. The performance, security and power of the entire ecosystem is first class. On the other side of the fence, LAMP stacks (Linux Apache MySQL PHP) are also very powerful, robust systems capable of incredible speed, power, and stability.

But this level of performance and complexity are simply not needed for every application written. Yes you can get better performance out of something in C# or PHP but does it matter? If you could save lots of money and time with a barely noticeable affect on performance would you take it?

The difference a programming language or platform makes is getting smaller and smaller, and the performance between something like PHP or C# vs JavaScript is rarely noticeable to the end user for MOST sites.

Sites like Google, Facebook and Reddit will always need languages like C#/PHP/Python, etc. In areas of raw performance stability and security JavaScript doesn’t measure up. High computation, hardware oriented stuff, embedded or resource limited environments are also areas where Assembler, C/C++/C#, Java and Go will continue to flourish.

However the common web application, the cute little phone/tablet games and social media plugin sites will keep using JavaScript more and more. This is a high growth area where the language, platform, and performance matter less.


Conclusion

As our product drastically changes so must our development methods. Working smarter means using simpler and more efficient means, and JavaScript is providing that. New developers are attracted to the simplicity and low cost of developing in JavaScript, which increases development and innovation in that space.

Websites where performance isn’t as much of a concern you see quicker development and turnaround times. High traffic, big data sites will still need big iron solutions, but JavaScript will be “good enough” for most stuff.

Like it or not, developers should already be well versed in JavaScript and working on their proficiency. JavaScript has room for improvement but is certainly on the move, and it appears to be the best candidate to lead us to the future.


Do you like articles like this?

I’m constantly hacking on stuff and writing about happenings in the programmer world. You can subscribe to my feed here, or you can get the programmer newsletter 100% spam free!

Comments