Webinterfaces, schmebinterfaces

July 22, 2006 at 12:37 am Leave a comment

This is a rant. Plain and simple. If you dislike the notion of someone venting his suppressed anger at something, please skip this post. And as you may have guessed, it’s a rant about webinterfaces.

A webinterface is this contraption which lets you interact with a webapplication, by using graphical user interface elements inside a webbrowser.
While all of this sounds good in theory, it often fails miserably in practice. And the sad thing is, it’s failing so often, and so miserably, that we stopped noticing.
We rejoice in the fact that most webinterfaces are just pretty bad, instead of downright appaling.

For years we have had to suffer things like menu driven word processors, Windows 3.1 and cash machines with monochrome displays, until we reached the walhalla of Windows XP or Mac OS 10. We finally have thumbnail icons, widgets ( or gadgets, or sidebars, whatever you want to call these tiny ever present applications ) and tabbed browsing, and now the webdesigners would like us to be excited about silly webmail clients? ( or blog admin tools for that matter )

I mean, come on. Pulleeeeze ! If normal mail clients would behave or act anything like a webmail client, people would sue. There would be massive class action suits against whomever deemed it necessary to unleash these monstrocities upon mankind.

To sum up just a few pebbles in the proverbial shoe :

  • The caret ( or cursor ) in input fields doesn’t blink right. Sometimes it blinks funny. Like it wants to blink, but a deeper force somewhere is prohibiting it from executing its ultra complicated task. Or it blinks a bit faster, and then slows down again. How does one write such complicated logic? I’d like to know. If I write a timer with a fixed interval, all it usually does is fire events at that interval. Not even a one-off extra event here or there.
  • Webinterfaces are fuzzy. I always feel that I am one lucky guy if a tab ( or whatever these funky looking variations on the rather mundane concept of a tab button want to be called ) switch does not make me stay on the same page, or goes to a completely different page than I intended.
  • Webinterfaces are slow. And not just because they need to download half the internet at every click of a button, even when there is nothing to download, for some reason they succeed in transforming my expensive AMD processor and my hilariously overpriced graphics card into the cpu and graphics card of a pc I threw away 3 years ago.
  • Web tree controls are so bad it’s not even funny anymore. Ever seen the emulation of a tree control by a webinterface? Why does it need to scroll all the way up when I expand an item? Are there any MIT or Harvard graduates, or IBM R&D fellows, preferably ones that have contributed to the making of the web ( Al Gore perhaps ? ) that can explain, in reasonably simple terms, why that was designed, or not designed, as such?

This list could go on forever. Well maybe not forever, but at least as close to forever as I could experience in my lifetime. Too darn close to complete it anyway.

Oh and I can already hear the arguments of webboys. “The web is as good as it could possibly get right now, we should be pleased that we have it…” “We are working to improve things everyday” “The apps and interface may not be the fanciest, but they offer all the functionality a regular app has to offer…” “Yadiyadiyadi blurb blurb…”

Well, I hate to bring you guys the news, but go back 10 years in time, and webbies were saying the exact same things. And although webinterfaces have improved since then, I can’t really say that I am thrilled about tree controlish ui items and text that wants to be clicked but is too shy to look like a button.

And all the Ajaxes, Railed Rubies, ActiveXes, twopointO’s and JavaScript concoctions in the world won’t change a damn thing. The web needs its Windows XP, it needs its Mac OS. Throw out the HTML, the XGML, the SGHTML, the JavaScript, the XML and the XIOHOFEHIFUWEEFIHML, and start over. I’m coming on strong here, probably too strong, but really, let the browser be like a virtual pc and OS and program it as such. We know how to make applications that look good and handle nicely on a pc and an OS. HTML was never meant to create applications, hell JavaScript was never meant to create applications.

But hang on just one more minute. How does Java fit into all of this. I mean, Java has got a virtual platform right? The Java virtual machine. The Vee-Em. All I can say is that whatever people are doing with Java and its VM, it has not quite yet impressed me very much. Sure there are fancy 3D viewer applets and such, but isn’t that like reinventing the wheel, only this time, without attaching it to anything useful? Imagine what the world would look like, if no one had ever come up with the idea of attaching that beautiful shape, that hint of perfection to, let’s say, a wheelbarrow?
We need clean cut, well integrated applications, with a consistent look-and-feel that work swiftly and smoothly. Is that so much to ask for? We have had them for some time now outside of the browser. And last time I checked, my browser was running on the exact same pc as my other applications, so by definition, the webapps are also running on that very machine, and so, what’s holding those apps back of actually looking and acting like those other applications? Are they deprived of certain machine code instructions, and thus forever doomed to look like nothing more than a prototype of a real application? Well, methinks not.
So please webguys, it’s not too late. You still have time to get your act together before I have to start ranting about 320 x 200 x 8bit color user interfaces on cell phones ( Can you believe I’ll have to mention the Commodore 64 in that rant? I thought mentioning Windows 3.1 was bad enough already )

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Entry filed under: Command Line.

Where is our food ? Future House

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