Open Komodo Thoughts

Today was a busy day, hence this late post.

As mentioned in the target of my last post, today we announced the Open Komodo initiative, which will see ActiveState open-source some of our crown jewels, because we think it’s the right thing to do. It’s the right thing to do for ActiveState, because we want to see Komodo grow faster than we can grow it with our limited resources (and we think we’ll be able to grow the business as a result), and it’s the right thing to do for the open web. With any luck, if we can get the right people to help, we can combine the strengths of Komodo, Firefox, amazing firefox add-ons like Firebug, and new ideas, and create, together, a set of development tools which will, if not change the world, then at least change the world of web development.

I’ve spent a fair bit of the time in the last couple of years dealing with web development and learning from masters. And it’s simply, inexcusably, unequivocally, way too much not fun! Using Firefox makes you wonder how you could do it before it better than some of the alternatives (brr). Learning Firebug makes you wonder how you did it before. But it’s still, I maintain, way too incredibly and painfully hard. Paraphrasing what my friend and colleague Luke was saying a few weeks ago, if you add up the number of hours wasted debugging cross-browser bugs, you come up with a sad and silly number. And that’s just the !%#@$ cross-browser issues.

So we’ve decided to do our bit to help fix that (while helping the business grow at the same time). Time will tell if it was the right call or the wrong call, but I’m pumped.

Let’s see what we (you, me, and hopefully people neither of us know just yet) can do if we think bravely about what could be. What if you had a true integrated development environment that had all the debugging and introspection goodness of Firebug, with the workflow support of Komodo, mixed in with the crazy features that you and others will add? What about a “view source” that also showed you the source on the server, not just what the browser got? Could we actually make building webapps 10% easier? Maybe 20%? Each of those percentage points matter. Not just in the lives of the poor souls to have to deal with broken browsers, but because any time not spent wasting dev time will be spent pushing the web further.

We can and must build better web standards, better browsers, better Ajax libraries, better browser plugins. But that just makes the stack taller. Good tools can help make it fit in people’s brains. Case in point: every time the background syntax checker in Komodo detects a missing closing bracket and saves a developer a few seconds that she’ll be able to spend learning about Cool New Stuff. Everytime someone using Komodo Snapdragon can inspect a DOM element, tweak a CSS rules until things look good, and save that change through to disk, that’s one less chance for a copy & paste error. Baby steps are like compound interest. They add up.

Finally, speaking egotistically and mixametaphorically, knowing that some of the Komodo DNA will be able to evolve in the wild, mix with other DNA, and create new offspring, fills me with parental pride. I’ll still stay up at night waiting to see if the kid comes home safely, but the neighborhood’s safe, so I don’t worry too much.

Oh by the way: the word mixametaphorically is hereby placed in the public domain.

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