Thomas Fuchs
Hi, I'm Thomas Fuchs. I'm the author of Zepto.js, of script.aculo.us, and I'm a Ruby on Rails core alumnus. With Amy Hoy I'm building cheerful software, like Freckle Time Tracking and Every Time Zone and write books like Retinafy.me.
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Web development’s next decade

January 7th, 2010

Goodbye 2000’s, hello 2010’s. What does the next decade on the web have in store for us?

Let’s start by looking at what happened in the last decade.

In the Year 2000…

At the beginning of the year 2000 (shiver!), the current version of Internet Explorer was 5.0. (Though people were largely still using version 4.) IE’s market share was approximately 75% for all versions, slightly more than today.

Netscape had a market share of about 20%, thanks to a rapid decline following its last release (version 4.08 in November, 1998).

There were no alternatives in sight.

Flash was at version 4 (and didn’t get video support until mid-2002!), and JavaScript was at 1.3 (1.5 was released later in 2000).

Front-end web development was a horrible, evil mess. There were almost no debugging tools available for HTML or CSS. Forget about debugging JavaScript. (Though browsers were already pretty powerful, that power was largely wasted on tickers and animated cursors).

Many people took ActiveX seriously.

Snap back to the present—and the future

Here are some predictions of how I think the Web and development tools will keep progressing through the next decade:

First of all, most web sites/apps will suck most of the time. Still. This is not a problem technology can solve, only devotion and effort on the behalf of people who make web sites.

Furthermore, we’ll still see lots of compatibility problems. But nothing like what we have today, much less 5 years ago.

Browser Marketshare

And that’s despite the fact that Internet Explorer’s market share will continue to drop, to maybe 20-40% by the end of the decade. This will be caused largely by a shift to more specialized browsing devices (mobile phones, tablets), with IE used mainly for in-house legacy “web” business applications.

Conversely, Firefox will gain some more market share, but it will eventually yield to WebKit-based browsers, with many more WebKit-based browsers from various vendors being released. (You can see this trend now with Apple’s Safari, Google Chrome, Nokia’s Starlight project, and more.)

Interactive Environments & Developer Tools

JavaScript, CSS animations, and related graphics & I/O systems will take over. (Graphics will include Canvas, WebGL & SVG, but possibly also things we don’t foresee yet.)

We’ll see IDEs for development with JavaScript-based Flash-like graphics engines, that will use Canvas and WebGL, and SVG (Microsoft just announced it joined the SVG working group). Plus, these IDEs will also target non-browsers, by compiling the results into a browser runtime with deployment to various mobile platforms.

There will also be a dramatic increase of hybridized local/web software, such as Single Serving Browsers (SSBs), and “real” desktop-land software that syncs to, and interacts with, cloud services.

Browsers will eventually stop supporting Flash (at least out of the box), but Flash will stay as a development platform for mobile devices.

Mobile Devices

On the mobile side of things, I fully expect the landscape to be utterly different from now. The iPhone is just 3 years old now and changed pretty much everything in the “smartphone” space, and who knows what Tablet goodness 2010 will bring.

Language Dominance

And of course, JavaScript will continue to be the world’s #1 programming language, being supported (exclusively!) by anything that runs/is based on a web browser runtimes.

We’ll also see dramatically increasing use of server-side JavaScript technologies as well.

Translation: If you aren’t already comfortable with JavaScript as a language, you better learn it now.

Computers

I’m pretty certain that the basic form factor of computers that most people use today (laptops) won’t change that much (my 2002 Titanium PowerBook was not that much different from my current-generation MacBook Pro, except for speed/storage increase).

It is quite possible that desktop computers will experience a renaissance, with people switching to a desktop machine at home/work and tablets to lug around.

Disclaimer

And yeah, I’m probably horribly wrong. :)

(Big thanks to Amy for the input and some added sections on this article!)