In show #396, The Future of Web Development Panel, which was recorded in Bulgaria at DevReach in October, 2008, we talked to Miguel Castro, Todd Anglin, Shawn Wildermuth, and Steve Smith about the state of Web development right now with ASP.NET and how they envision the future. Unfortunately, the future part is toward the end of the interview, but you can read here how we got started, and continue by listening to the entire interview at

Carl Franklin: So, we’re here to talk about the future. Of course, I’m going to ask each of you to sort of put your future hats on in a minute but I suppose maybe we should talk about where you thought we would be by now. Let’s back it up a little ways to the beginning of ASP.NET and when you look down the road, did you ever think that you’d have the tools that you have, and that you’d be developing stuff as easily as you are now? What are your thoughts about where we are now?

Miguel Castro: I think that when I first got started with ASP.NET coming from the classic ASP background, the road, the pathway to where Web development was going to go, I think became a little more predictable, a little more evident because of the drastic step that I saw in how ASP.NET revolutionized, what I used to be able to do in classic ASP. To answer your question about do you think we are where we should be today or something like that, I think in certain things, regarding AJAX, for example, it was a natural evolution. I feel that with AJAX, we probably are exactly where I thought we would be. A lot of that technology I’m still learning, admittedly. I’m involved in so many things beside ASP.NET now. I’m no longer specializing in just ASP.NET but I do think that we’re in a place where I predicted we would be. With more advanced technologies like what Shawn is a specialist at, Silverlight, that completely blew me away. Silverlight to me, I don’t know about you guys, I would be happy to admit, Silverlight to me came out of left field as far as holy cow, where did this come from?

Carl Franklin: Yeah, nobody ever thought we’d have .NET browser.

Miguel Castro: Exactly. What we used to be able to see only with competitor technologies, you know, the F word, right, I didn’t expect to see such a good job done in such a little time and they pulled it off and that’s one technology that like you, I go to Shawn for if I need help with because I haven’t really grokked it yet.

Carl Franklin: Yeah.

Miguel Castro: So, that one kind of blew me away. For the most part in ASP, I like where we’re going. We’re going to talk about MVC later?

Carl Franklin: Oh yeah.

Miguel Castro: Okay. I like where we’re going with general ASP and the AJAX stuff definitely.

Todd Anglin: In terms of tacking on to what you said there; where did we expect to be and is this where we expect to be, I have to agree completely. This is really when ASP.NET 1.0 and 1.1 was out and then we moved into 2.0. It’s really sort of where I thought we’d be. I don’t feel like we’re missing something. I don’t feel like we haven’t caught something. Frankly, maybe we’re a little ahead of where I thought we’d be in terms of what the framework provides and talking about MVC and Silverlight. I think that, if anything, is just what I didn’t expect. I didn’t expect to be in 2008 and have not just ASP.NET but three different options-maybe 2½ different options-for developing for Microsoft Web platforms. I really am surprised about that but I don’t feel like we’re behind and it’s really pretty much I think the road a lot of developers will travel on.

Steven Smith: Sure, sure. ASP 2.0 to me-and I don’t want this to sound negative because it’s not-was completely predictable. Every feature that I felt ASP.NET 1.1 was missing that I said to myself, “I either got to write this or somebody at Microsoft has to write this, I wish you could do this,” actually came out in 2.0.

Shawn Wildermuth: Well, you know, I’ll be the negative guy here. I don’t think we’re near where I would expect us to be. I mean, we’re still writing for the most part. We’ve got some great framework, we’re still writing JavaScript in the browser and obviously spending a lot of time in Silverlight. Maybe my world is skewed there, but I never thought when I came from kind of the classic ASP background like most of us did, that we’d still be spending so much time trying to get around browser, ubiquity, and problems of different platforms in the browser. That is still so much more pain that I expect it to be.

Carl Franklin: Now, is that because you’re working with Silverlight and AJAX where the tools haven’t really caught up on the client side yet, or is it because the stuff that gets rendered by ASP.NET still has problems with multiple browsers?

Shawn Wildermuth: Well, it’s not just surrendering. It’s also the programming model and the differences between the DOMs. I think the problem here isn’t ASP.NET. I think the problem is that we’re still in a 15-year browser war.

Carl Franklin: Oh, okay.

Shawn Wildermuth: And so if you look at something like Safari on Windows and Mac and PC being different even in the same browser space, same with Firefox, same with IE.

Carl Franklin: So, the browser war is coming back in other words.

Shawn Wildermuth: I don’t think it ever went away.

Carl Franklin: Yeah.

Shawn Wildermuth: I think we all learned to live with the pain of if get-go else if IE.

Carl Franklin: Well, isn’t it part of ASP.NET framework to help us, you know, handle those issues?

Miguel Castro: Server side, yes, but you know what? To what Shawn is saying, though we disagree on the fundamentals, I agree with what you’re saying as far as the pain about writing JavaScript and things like that, but the very essence of the core of what HTTP is, it is always going to keep that strict separation between the client and the server and that’s what the general pain in the ass is.

Todd Anglin: Well, and we’re talking about browser differences and we talked about where do we expect to be. I mean, as soon as a browser version comes out, it doesn’t go away so even if we have everybody come on the same page today, that doesn’t mean we’re going to get great browser support tomorrow. It’s going to be the same browser we have to support and fortunately ASP.NET AJAX makes this easier. It helps solve the client side in this equation.

Carl Franklin: Steve, what do you think?

Steven Smith: I think I agree mostly with Miguel. I think a lot of things are about where they ought to be. I agree that the browser is still a huge pain to work with. One of the things that I’m a little bit disappointed with in ASP.NET’s evolution is that when it first shipped, they had all these controls that came with it, and then with 2.0 and with some other things, they were shipping all this cool stuff that was going to add to that like add counters and add charts and add menus and add other things. We got a menu. A lot of that stuff never materialized so I’m a little disappointed that there’s not a richer control model, but I think that Microsoft has made a conscious decision that they’re going to provide the basics in the framework and they’re going to leave it to third-party vendors to do a lot of the richer things.

Todd Anglin: And we appreciate that.

Steven Smith: Yeah. If it were that simple, one thing I really wish they would fix is the calendar control. That was just nasty. They look like some something to update.

Todd Anglin: But there are so many alternatives. There are so many alternatives with their product. I mean, I’ve always found that one of Microsoft’s strength is always its relationship with its partners. I’m probably in the minority when I say sometimes I think Microsoft is getting into too many things and [they should] leave a lot of things to the third parties. I actually enjoy the gaps that Microsoft leaves in their products so companies like Telerik can come in and fill in those gaps. People like me can come in and fill in these gaps. Sometimes I feel they may be conquering a little too much.

Steven Smith: Sure.

Todd Anglin: I want to see somebody else’s product come in and fill this gap, not just a Microsoft solution.

Carl Franklin: Well, that’s obviously your interest. Do you think that’s the interest of the market as well? Do you think that the developers out there really want to see a lot competition among vendors?

Todd Anglin: I think developers always appreciate choices, but see, there are two sides of it and it’s almost a 50:50 split and I’m a consultant, so I’m out in the field on a regular basis and I see really 50:50. I see developers that like to, if it has the label Microsoft on it, they consider it the Bible and this is what we’re going to go with, so if Microsoft is not doing it, they’re not going to use that technology.

Carl Franklin: And you have exactly the opposite, yeah.

Todd Anglin: For those, then it’s good that Microsoft is getting into all the fanciness that third parties used to control.

Carl Franklin: Right, right.

Todd Anglin: Because those people will never get the chance and a lot of it’s not just because they’re, for lack of a better term, Kool-Aid drinkers, it’s because they have budget issues in the company. The companies don’t want to spend money purchasing Telerik suite for 50 developers. They want only the Microsoft stuff because they have an MSDN suite. At the same time, there are the other side of developers that like the choices, that like the ability-I mean third parties have actually shown tremendous, tremendous brilliance in a lot of these, in filling in a lot of these gaps that Microsoft has left open. I’m not to say that Microsoft doesn’t have that brilliance because I’m sure they definitely have the talent, but it’s just so nice to see a refreshing type of look into finding a solution to a problem as opposed to just the way they do it in Redmond. That’s where companies like Telerik or other third parties really shine and I personally don’t want to see that go away. I enjoy seeing the third parties. Seeing third parties compete with each other is a fantastic thing because they just make better and better products.

Carl Franklin: Yeah.

Shawn Wildermuth: From the third party perspective, I mean it’s not a bad thing that Microsoft introduced basic controls and it really adds to what Microsoft does. They introduce a baseline and then the third party enriches it and it goes beyond that, so viewed as competition, you know, let Microsoft introduce the basics and that works for a lot of people. When you need advanced things, the third party will still be there and will just evolve and innovate beyond what continues to come out. I think the ASP.NET AJAX control toolkit is a good example of that and as that continues to expand, sort of even richer than what’s come out before ASP.NET but still not rich enough if you have a very complicated application, so there’s still room for third parties. I don’t think Microsoft will box out third parties with their approach.

Carl Franklin: So far, we’ve talked about ASP.NET. Let’s talk about the developer experience. Where do you think we are in terms of developer experience for the web? I mean, I never did ColdFusion but you certainly heard a lot of negativity from ColdFusion developers who are so used to the sort of drag and drop, boom, boom, boom, ging, ging and everything is up and running. We have application frameworks. We have DotNetNukes and SharePoints and things that do that same sort of stuff, but where do we think we are in terms of general tools for Web development?

Miguel Castro: Well, with respect to the king of all tools, Visual Studio, I mean I have absolutely no complaints. I honestly can’t understand why anybody would want to code with any other IDE for Web development other than Visual Studio and I know people do it, not only that, there’s been a couple of third party vendors out there that have gone the route of writing their own IDEs for this kind of stuff and I really don’t get it. Visual Studio gives me everything I need. It’s a tool that just keeps on getting better and better. So, as far as developer experience and promoting developer productivity for doing Web development, for the most part, I just don’t think it gets any better. I look forward to every version of Visual Studio just to see what else can they possibly come up with.

Todd Anglin: I’ll make my comment quick and pass it down, but really, I think we’re in a weird place with developer experience because we see a lot of new developer experiences and some old ones coming back. I’m referencing, of course, MVC. We’ve been in this experience now for the last five years of everything just drags and drops and it stake its hand of course automatically. We don’t want to see code, we just want to see mark-up and now we’re sort of going back a little bit more towards seeing more code and having more control. So, Visual Studio, great, I agree completely, great tool. Design time, it’s still kind of weak in my opinion. I’m personally a CodeView coder, I’ll use IntelliSense, but those that use design time, it’s still weak experience so I don’t know. I mean it’s good, it’s the best out there, but there’s probably still room to go for people who don’t like using the IntelliSense approach to coding.

Shawn Wildermuth: My problem with Visual Studio and the space and it may not be purely developer, because with coding, I agree with Miguel. I think Visual Studio is a great experience for developers creating code, writing lines of code. I think the problem that falls down on the Web space is that most organizations don’t have developers designing pages and today the experience of designers coming in doing mark-ups in their design tools or, if you’re lucky, HTML wireframes and then integration into a server side technology like ASP.NET. It’s a painful experience, especially a long lifecycle of a project because the designer goes back and says, “I’ve added a 1 pixel image in here to move this over a tiny bit. Please re-integrate my entire HTML wireframes.”

Carl Franklin: Yeah, I’ve done that, sure.

Shawn Wildermuth: In some other technologies, you see in the W space this is happening and certainly in the Silverlight space, where they’re bringing in tools where designers and developers can work better together and Expression web is not that tool. We need that tool on the ASP.NET space. I’ve been yelling that for about a year and a half because someone, I don’t care whether it’s Microsoft or someone else, someone needs to build that tool that says designers can come in, make their changes to the design and when they hit F5, they’re running it with the code that the developer next to them is working on.

The conversation continues online at