History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. — Karl Marx
I can remember the day, back in 1994, when I abandoned the Mac for Windows. It was a gloomy, overcast day when I made that bittersweet decision — I was a Mac and Unix nerd all through college — but after my twelfth or thirteenth crash of the day, I had had enough. Photoshop, Netscape, Secure Shell and Word were just not meant to run more than one at a time on Mac OS 7. Had I stayed with Apple through that rough patch I’m sure I would have been slimmer, sexier and happier, but NT 3.51 only crashed twice a day, so my hand was forced. I ran out and bought a PC that very day.
Now I fear history may be repeating itself. Yesterday, I had Firefox 2 for linux crash 5 times, and IE7 for XP crash 7 times. The cause? Too many fat Ajax applications. Zimbra, the whole Google bestiary of applications, Yahoo Mail, etc.. These are all long running applications that I keep open for most of the day. Then all of a sudden the Browser is gone and I have to relaunch and login all over again.
I’m not alone in this. Colleagues and friends report similar problems with Safari/Mac, IE7/Vista, Firefox/Mac. I’ve even checked with a friend that runs the helpdesk for a large firm: reported problems with browsers are up. The only one who seems blissfully unaffected is the lone Opera nerd in my office. He just keeps chugging along with what seem like 200 open tabs.
The cause should be evident to everyone. We’ve taken what was first called LiveScript — a crufty embedding just good enough to validate a form or two — and we’ve abused it into being the foundation for a whole new kind of application platform. The browsers have just not kept up and the situation will only get worse with the accelerated proliferation of Web 2.0 apps.
Help is on the way, in the form of bytecode interpreters and vm’s for Safari and Mozilla, though the future of IE is still cloudy (still, there is a plan to bring Tamarin to IE). But if the new Browser version don’t arrive quickly enough, or if they don’t fully solve the problem of browsers crashing once an hour, then a mass migration to Opera may be the best we can hope for. At worst, content and application producers will opt for more stable non-Ajax alternatives such as Flash or Silverlight.
Ajax and the browsers it depends on are running out of time. If the notion spreads that it isn’t reliable, it will be as dead as the Java Applet, never to be heard from again.