Front-End development technologies come and go. In my experience, they have been the single most volatile part of software. Their lifespan seems to be very short (5-10 years).
Why are they so volatile?
- Probably because the devices the users interact with evolve far faster than what they don’t interact with (back-end, databases and such);
- Users now expect more. Back in the day, users would happily use whatever software they had to automate their work. That has changed over the years as most people have their own personal computers and devices, which they use for way more things than just “boring accounting and payroll systems”. Also, since the first iPhone came out, users have learned to expect software to be more intuitive. And now “there’s an app for everything”, and for each app, there are likely multiple options to choose from.
Since the late ’90s, I’ve worked on a huge number of software “rewrites”. Most of them were really painful and time-consuming. Why so?
- Developers put way too much code on the front-end;
- In most “rewrites”, people simply want to replace the old with the new, making the new one look and behave like the old one, but on a different platform
Every time a new front-end toy comes out, I’m mostly interested in seeing how developers are writing code in it. More often than not, I see the same pattern over and over: a TON of code put right there in the front-end. Knowing that these frameworks and libraries aren’t like to last more than 5-10 years (by last I mean to be continuous developed), I know that a rewrite for such software means, well, rewriting all of that code!!
For the most part, the front-end part of software should simply allow the user to ask questions to the system and see responses. That’s it. Present the users with what they need to formulate questions, and then show them the answers in the best way possible (which could mean, fast, or illustrated with charts, or whatever it takes to give users the insight they need in that moment of time). In certain scenarios, it may be crytical to have most of the processing happening on the front-end, but those are the exception, not the rule.
Don’t get me wrong: I used to jump at every new shiny toy, too. There was a time when Microsoft put out a new toy called LightSwitch. That was probably the first time I looked at a new toy and thought “hmm, I don’t think that thing will last long”.
I didn’t quite recall when it went away, but found out on a quick search that its lifecycle started on Oct 30, 2011, and it’s mainstream support ended on Jan 1, 2017. The official death announcement states that “the landscape has changed significantly from the time when we first thought about LightSwitch”.
Such a shame. I had worked so hard on adding LightSwitch to my resume. I had even documented my proficiency with it on this short 45-second video!