Mozilla are definately ahead of the field with XUL (see Introducing XUL) having something that “works” now. There’s still some hurdles to overcome though.
As a platform for deployment over the web, XUL still suffers from practical issues – a compromise between security concerns and ease of use has yet to be made and this is preventing, say, PHP coders from churning out XUL based apps the way we can churn out HTML. Neil Deakin summarizes these problems nicely here.
From a strategic angle, Mozilla is also in a grey zone between commerical software and Open Source, thanks to their Netscape / AOL past. It means they don’t have the money to force-feed everyone their technology on the one hand while on the other, are missing a strong following in Open Source circles, being somewhat less of a “movement” than technologies like Linux and PHP. Guido van Rossum (father of Python) made this point well at OSCON this year (but I’ve lost the link). This could change though. Backing from one of Microsofts “rivals”, such as IBM, Novell or Sun might help with promoting Gecko and expanding it’s installed based. Meanwhile, since seperation from Netscape / AOL last July, the independent Mozilla Foundation seems to be gaining more acceptance in Open Source and part of Brendan is saying is how he’s hoping to partner Mozilla with other groups such as Gnome.
Meanwhile Microsoft have all the advantages Microsoft always has. XAML promotion has already begun while still being very much “experimental” in status. When XAML finally hit the streets, it’s likely to be a well rounded technology complete with support in Visual Studio and endless ads and column inches to market it, as we’ve already seen with .NET. But it may not all be plain sailing.
We’re talking at least another two years before Longhorn is ready to roll and likely longer, perhaps even 2008, based on Microsofts past performance. Microsoft are already finding it harder to convince customers of the value in upgrading from older versions of Windows (and Office) and if Longhorn means not just license fees but buying the latest hardware to be able to run it, uptake may be slow even when it is released. That means XAMLs “installed base” may take a long time to grow.
At the same time Linux is gaining mindshare in mainsteam IT, thanks to IBM, which could lead to customers demanding cross platform technologies (which XUL is). And XUL “works” now. If it can gain enough pace before XAML is a reality, it could make stiff competition.
Anyway, enough soothsaying. already.