Alex Russell

Project Lead, SitePen

Ajax and Mobility
19 minutes, 8.9mb, recorded 2007-03-01
Alex Russell

Alex Russel, creator of the Dojo web toolkit, discusses the future of mobile phone development based on his experience in the mobile, security, and web development industries. He claims that although smart phones are increasing in power, they will not be a suitable platform for open source development. That, and restrictions by handset makers and network operators, mean that the web is the only viable platform for developing mobile phone applications in the future.

Currently, the tools for developing mobile software suffer from severe limitations. There are no reliable cross-platform tools. Regulation on the mobile industry scares potential developers. Hardware vendors are ambivalent towards software: they like it because it can help sell handsets, but they worry about support for those applications. Network operators are negative towards software; they want to control and get paid for everything and anything that has access to their network. One of the biggest problems is that there is no easy way to download and distribute programs. Phone numbers and SMS are the two main methods of communication on a phone, and neither of them are as actionable as a URL is on the web.

Given these limitations, the mobile web is the only hope for getting anything out of phones. The biggest win for mobile developers would be for mobile browsers to improve support for plain HTML. Other programming options like J2ME or Javascript place high minimum requirements on the hardware, while HTML can be rendered as a best effort of the phone's capabilities. Also, the rapid turnover of phones means that even the newest standards can be widely implemented within a couple years. Extending HTML to allow inputs from voice, location, and camera would also reduce the dependence on text input, for which phones are not well suited. This would all be a big improvement over trying to directly port the computer experience to mobile phones.

Alex Russell is project lead for the Dojo Toolkit and director of R&D for SitePen, a consulting firm specializing in responsive web applications and the open source tools that enable them. He also serves as president of the Dojo Foundation, an organization that supports development of several high-quality open source JavaScript projects and distributes them under liberal terms.

Before joining SitePen, Russell was a senior engineer at JotSpot and Informatica where he helped both companies build highly interactive web interfaces. His earlier open source involvement included stints as editor of the OWASP Guide to Building Secure Web Applications and primary author of the netWindowsDHTML toolkit.


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