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I can relate as I've been a web developer for 18 years and before that I did some qBASIC. Some aspects of web development have been stable for over ten years and feels like a foundation. Everything with computers is a "hack" though, the transistor is a hack, then everything on top of it is a hack. It's only when things get stable and has a tight abstraction things starts feeling non-hacky. But when something is stable (aka perfect) it no longer evolves and starts to get old. So you either use old stuff that worked 10 years ago and will work many years forward, or just accept that the bleeding edge technology you use today might be a bleeding mess tomorrow.

One thing I like about computers and programming is that it's all created by humans. I tried go into physics and biology but once you go deep nothing really makes any sense, it's all random. With programming there's always, most of the time, reason behind design decisions.




I don't have any problem using old stuff that worked 10 years ago. Our field is young, and there haven't been any major advances in the way programming is done for the last 25 years or so. Even if there had been major advances, I don't see anything inherently bad or wrong about oldness; conversely, I don't see anything inherently good about newness. Something can be 30 years old yet still be better than any of its alternatives, even in our field where obsolescence is a fact of life. I also don't think stable software is prohibited from continued evolution—obvious examples include the common open-source Unix-like OSs, many of which have been stable for years, yet have continued to evolve new features like loadable kernel modules, direct rendering interfaces, network firewalls, containers/jails/zones, nifty file system improvements, etc. Even Berkeley sockets were once introduced by an OS that was already old enough to be licensed to drive.

Also, I disagree that all of computing is built upon nothing but hacks. Computing is underpinned by lines of theory whose fundamentals can legitimately be described as elegant or even beautiful. I'm thinking of things like universal Turing machines, the lambda calculi, type theory, the structured programming theorem, theories of concurrent, parallel, and/or distributed computation, automata theory, computability theory, complexity/tractability, universal/abstract algebra, relational algebra, unification, etc., but the elegance doesn't end where the theory ends. Many people, including myself, would consider Lisp to be profoundly beautiful, for example, perhaps even on multiple levels. Whether you like the language or not, it was a crowning achievement of early computation science, and it is far from unique in that regard.

Although I personally loathe the state of Web development, I don't hate Web developers. On the contrary, I'm very glad that there's no shortage of people who seem to enjoy it—especially as a long-time Linux user, I'm glad that since the dawn of "Web 2.0", I've had to worry less and less about being left out because third-party developers decided not to support my OS: more and more, I can just pop open my Web browser and use the exact same software anyone would use on Windows or MacOS. It's a double-edged sword, for sure, since along with the convenience and compatibility, browsers have become insane, bloated resource hogs, and if I'm not connected to the Net, there's a chance I won't be able to use the software I want or access the data I want. On top, philosophically I can't help but feel that XaaS for various values of X and "the Cloud" are regressions back to a time when personal compute power was prohibitively expensive, for reasons that are billed as convenience but in reality only serve to remove the freedoms of end users; notwithstanding, I'm just going to focus on the technological issues that I perceive for now, since the philosophical issue(s) demand a different class of solution altogether, nor do said issue(s) belong uniquely to the Web.

I suppose most of the issues I have with the Web as a software platform stem primarily from one force: organic growth over the course of two decades, as opposed to thoughtful and deliberate design by an engineer or group of engineers. The way the Web is now, especially when viewed as a software delivery and execution platform rather than as a document delivery platform, it's a Frankenstein's monster that has been pieced together from numerous disparate protocols and data formats all designed by different people, revised by still more different people, and oftentimes extended by yet more different people in order to cover use cases that had not been considered by the original designer(s), and then connected in the most straightforward ways possible, where each connection might consist of an entirely different mechanism than any other (rather than, for example, extending the protocols such that they provide a uniform connection mechanism).

However, I don't think organic growth on its own necessarily leads to monstrosities. I think that the force of organic growth has been guided by a couple of factors, similar to how evolution is guided by various forms of selection. For one, throughout the history of the Web, the goalposts of its continued development have moved time and again. Once a system for the distributed service of hypertext documents, it quickly became a service for hypermedia in general. Then it became a service for interactive trinkets. And it quickly became a service for commerce and enterprise. With the advent of Java applets and ActionScript-programmable Flash "movies", it became a service (but not yet a platform) for the delivery of applications. Then, of course, AJAX sparked a fundamental change in how the Web was viewed by developers and users alike: it finally became not only an application delivery service, but also a software platform! Since then, the goalposts have shifted only slightly, and the majority of these goals can be summarized as a desire to further enrich the software platform, first by doing the things Flash was once used for, then the things Java was once used for, coming to the point where there is a desire for a Web page to be able to do the things native desktop applications are typically used for, including even AAA games. For each set of goalposts, the context of the design of new Web technology has been different; as such, the notion of what has constituted a "good" design decision has also changed: sometimes, what was a good design decision at the time became not-so-good in a new context. The result has been—rather than a clear progression towards a single goal—a bunch of tumorous outgrowths in various directions with a line of best fit trending from "hypertext document service" to "hardware and operating system abstraction layer and virtual machine for shitty, poorly-performing, inefficient, possibly-distributed applications". The curious "architecture" of the Web is reflected in the architecture of Web applications: the number and complexity of the technologies that are needed to create even the most basic Web application is, frankly, ridiculous. And on top of it all, where platforms with like goals such as the JVM and CLR manage to provide first-class support for multiple programming languages, the Web manages to offer only one, and it happens to be particularly grimy (my fingers are crossed for WebAssembly).

The lesson of all this (and it's not a lesson unique to the Web by any means), is this: backwards compatibility is a bitch.

tl;dr all these young punks need to get off my lawn




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