Building enterprise web applications

I had a long and interesting discussion last week in the pub about Enterprise web applications. You know, the really boring form+view apps that ask the user to type in huge amounts of meaninglessly horrible information that will never be used again - the very definition of an Enterprise app.

So like most Enterprise developers, I hack away in HTML, CSS, Javascript. All day, every day. Some days I have a lovely back end and secure environment to play in (Domino) which is a plus, but have to work in a 10+ year old technology and techniques. No xPages goodness for us in Enterprise land. 

Surely, I postulated, over in the MS side of the tracks, its just a case of whipping up some visual studio loveliness and generating whatever passes as ASP these days, giving a nice rich client experience.

Oh sure, said the other person glumly. But where can we get developers who know HTML, CSS and Javascript?

Thankfully, I had imbibed a few units of beer by this time, so when I fell out of my chair, no bones were broken.

"What?" I exclaimed. This is bread and butter stuff. Walk in the park stuff. Stuff you could theoretically do in Notepad (or the only-slightly better Domino Designer 7). Throw a stick, and I'm sure in any part of any country in the world, it'll hit someone who claims to be a genius at this rather old-hat technology.

Ah. No. It would appear that Johnny Enterprise Developer has quite rightly decided that such hand-coding is crap (And lets face it, it is) and went down the RIA route. In those enlightened shops that dont slavishly follow Uncle Fester to oblivion, that would be Flex/Flash. Of course.

But Enterprise implies that the folks making the technology decisions are not technologists. They're risk averse bean counters or committee players. Sure, back in the day I'm sure some of them could cut some decent COBOL. But these are people who play more golf than cut code. 

And so, in the Enterprise world, its Silverlight. V3 at the moment, or V4 if you can get it to work. Or V5 in Beta. However, MS just threw a major league style spanner in the works.

You see, in order to be risk-averse in the MS world, you have to be good at reading the tea-leaves. Will MS Support this product, or will they do an IE6 on it, leaving it to fester for years and years before touching it again. Will the risk-averse golf-loving beancounter look like a fool in a few years for choosing Silverlight.

What spanner is this ? Oh, its the statement that HTML5 will in fact be king, and not Silverlight. Woops. Now in any other market in the world, you would interpret this as perhaps being a slight liftoff in the Silverlight onslaught that MS has been at for the last three years. But the MS faithful have seen this as a coffin nail in their beloved Flash-wannabe. Woops. Seems if the Beast of Redmond doesnt express full support 100% of the time, then the product is toast.

So. Enterprise wise, its all to play for. It'd be a cold day in hell in Enterprise-land before Flash/Flex gets a sniff from the architects. 

And now to the big question. What software package out there will help develop enterprise applications in HTML4/CSS2/Javascript as well as HTML5/CSS3/Javascript, and be able to be used by developers who dont understand HTML/CSS and Javascript.

Its a big ask, and I suspect I'm not the only person scratching their head over this. 

Any ideas?