Next Generation Javascripting

Chris Beard

4

Computer programs lost something important when displaying a splash of color stopped being one line of code. To throw a phosphorescent splotch onto the display on the Apple II required simply “plot x,y”. That’s no longer true today. When the simplicity of the one-line plotter went away, so did the delight at being so effortlessly generative—in a visual way—on the computer. The Open web, as an authoring enabler, is a compelling move back towards that lost ease.

But even as Javascript—as well as the HTML elements it has access to— continues to mature, the general perception of what these technologies enable do not. It took the Web 2.0 revolution to dispel the view that Javascript and Dynamic HTML were mainly useful for form validation and making annoying websites. With Tamarin coming to Firefox and SquirrelFish coming to WebKit, we are ready to see the next wave of projects that again expand our understanding of what is possible on the Web.

Recently, there have been three projects from Mozillians that hint at the new places the Web could go.

First, there is Mozilla Evangelism’s John Resig with Processing.js. It’s a port of Java-based Processing which is “an open source programming language and environment for people who want to program images, animation, and interactions. It is used by students, artists, designers, researchers, and hobbyists for learning, prototyping, and production. It is created to teach fundamentals of computer programming within a visual context and to serve as a software sketchbook and professional production tool.” Processing.js is an exemplar of project that expands people’s understanding of what Javascript is capable.

Second, there is Mozilla Labs’ Atul Varma with Parchment, which is Javascript based interpreter for the Z-Machine—the platform of choice for creating interactive fiction. This enables any browser to play such timeless works as The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams and Steve Meretzky, and Galatea, written by Emily Short. Parchment is a great example of using open Web technologies to empower writers in new ways.

Third, there is my own ContextFree.js, which is about drawing striking images—and making art—with minimal amounts of code.

Outside of Mozilla, there are such interesting projects as Objective-J and Sprout Core that push the limits of what one can do with Javascript.

It’s exciting to see the power of Open web technologies for making graphically-enabled, compelling interaction. It’s even more exciting to imagine what’s coming next.

4 responses

  1. Web Mechs wrote on ::

    Gapminder’s Trendalyzer

    http://graphs.gapminder.org/

    is a very impressive example of just what is possible in Actionscript/Flash, which is of course, Javascript (although the very Java-fied ECMAScript 5 version).

  2. Web Mechs wrote on ::

    “Computer programs lost something important when displaying a splash of color stopped being one line of code. To throw a phosphorescent splotch onto the display on the Apple II required simply ‘plot x,y’”

    Ever since I discovered Python, I’ve been writing reams of text to try to express the idea that those two sentences so succicntly convey.

    “The Open web, as an authoring enabler, is a compelling move back towards that lost ease.”

    and LOST EASE is exactly what it is!

    “dispel the view that Javascript and Dynamic HTML were mainly useful for form validation and making annoying websites”

    D-mn right. I have much to thank Douglas Crockford for for making me see that Javascript is a language worthy of much respect.

  3. AK911 wrote on :

    @Rainbow: Wrong. Javascript cannot replace Flash or Air nor is it its intention. It will be able to do more flash-like things in future, true. Like imaging or maybe even Sounds. But what about Video, Animation, complex Interactions, usability and performance? If you want to stick all that into JS then it automatically becomes Flash as someone has to pay the MPEG-Consortium for the right of the use of industry standard Video-codecs. And believe me, XViD is just another proprietary standard.

  4. Rainbow Trout Lures wrote on ::

    The future of web software development will definitely continue to be in JavaScript and XHTML. It’s good to see these technologies mature and improve. RIA products like Silverlight and AIR will go by the wayside just like Java applets have.