Friday, July 8, 2011

Crossing the chasm to the new paradigm

I titled this post in homage to Moore, the author of Crossing the Chasm. He clearly described how marketing strategies for high-tech are different from other product categories. He heavily leverages the technology adoption life-cycle bell curve where Rogers et. al. segments people into 5 categories:
  1. innovators,
  2. early adopters,
  3. early majority,
  4. late majority and
  5. laggards
(although the last category seems a bit offensive :)). Moore emphasizes that getting from early adopter to early majority is like crossing a chasm: the former 'visionaries' have very different expectations then the later 'pragmatists'. To mix authors (like metaphors), a 'tipping point' seems to be required to make the shift.
So it is for developers: new ideas, languages and techniques come by all the time. Some jump in 'where angels dare to tread'. I seem to be the former. At least I like to think of myself as such. Others wait. Some are clearly risk averse, but I think for some, it is hard to let go of the 'it works, why change it' paradigm. Perhaps they are right. They are pragmatists, and by nature practical. But innovators and early adopters seem to reap benefits. Since the technology wave moves incesntly and swiftly, it is best to keep on its cusp, like a surfer, using its power and momentum to guide you on, lest you be left paddling to catch up, far behind.
But many on my team aren't of the innovator ilk. Nor is my company. I work for a very large software company that should be on the leading edge, if not the bleeding edge of innovation adoption. But we're not. We suffer from a stifling bureaucracy (like most large companies or governments, dare I say), and a hefty dose of 'not built here' syndrome. Interestingly enough, by boss isn't a 'laggard' in any stretch of the imagination. He, however, bears the brunt of having to argue for the wacky ideas of his reports in front of very risk averse corporate gatekeepers. Sometimes he wins, sometimes not.
But, within the team, it was surprising to me how shocked people were when I said,
"we are not going to write JSP any more."

I'm sure some of the readers of this blog post (all 1 of you) might be shocked as well. But sometimes we need to be shocked. This is a broad and sweeping statement, but it is powerful, because it hints at our reliance on rendering the UI on the server. And we shouldn't. This is heresy, and would have been foolish in the past. From early cgi and perl (remember those days) to the development of J2EE, the browser was considered a dumb reader of html, not a smart client platform like thick client apps or client server. Applets were to be that, not the browser. If not Applets, then flash, if not flash then... well, ... the browser.
What is the browser today? Its not dumb. It's not just a reader. It is an operating system. It is a platform that has capabilities to run sophisticated programs delivered to it. HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript are the languages it speaks. If you know the lingo, you can unleash a vast array of capabilities that just a couple of years before were left to the native or thick client world.
So, my aha moment came when I realized that what we needed to do was to go back to the client server days. In those days, you had vast power of the desktop, its graphical and multimedia power and local storage capability. You connected to the server for data. Yes, business rules and shaping of data occurred on the server. Certainly secure selection and delivery of data as well. It enforces transactionality and validity. It handles persistence and auditing. But its is never in the business of rendering the user interface--that's the client's job.
Rendering UI on the server was the compromise required to deliver applications over the web. And it was worth it too. Not to wory about the client footprint, not to have to wait for support to install and configure the next version. immediate access to everything a mouse click away. It rocked our world. It changed our world. Thanks Tim for that. But he was thinking hyperlinked books after all, not applications. It was amazing what we can do even with its obvious limitations. And Tim has moved on too.

But we no longer need to make this compromise. We can benefit from the zero footprint immediate access to all the worlds knowledge and applications but still leverage graphics, multimedia, processing power and even local storage of the desktop.

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