Almost since the web got started, I have been involved in making software for creating content online. Early in Ephox’s life, we invested significantly in Java technology as a way to provide cross-platform and cross-browser editing. We used an applet to pioneer browser-based editing on the Mac and in Firefox. The editor we built, EditLive!, received more than ten years of development and nine major releases. It became the most feature rich solution in its space.
Despite building a product of which we are very proud, the era of using Java for editing online is drawing to a close. HTML5 now enables Ephox and others to deliver rich functionality directly in the browser in a cross-platform way, for new and existing users alike.
Why the new era is Java-free
Firstly, browsers are significantly better. A ‘pure’ browser technology used for editing online—called ‘contenteditable’—was first introduced in Internet Explorer and then found its way into Firefox and then Chrome and onto Safari. Although it can still be inconsistent between browsers and devices, it is at least now possible to build a cross-platform, cross-browser editing experience entirely with browser technologies.
Secondly, mobile and tablet usage has taken off. Mobile platforms are an increasingly important way to create content, not just consume it. Browsers on mobile devices have never supported plug-ins such as Java. Limited processor and battery power drove the decision, as did Steve Jobs’ infamous decision to block Flash from the iPhone. To be truly cross-platform, which was our motivation for using Java in the first place, HTML5 is now a better set of technologies.
Editing using a plug-in in a browser also requires that the big browser vendors cooperate. Using plug-ins such as Java has become increasingly challenging as Google, and then Mozilla and finally Microsoft announced their decisions to phase out a crucial API (NPAPI) used by plug-ins. This trend reached a new milestone when Oracle itself announced that they were deprecating the Java browser plug-in.
How Ephox is joining the HTML5 era
Ephox has announced and released an HTML5-based editor known as Textbox.io. Many years in development, Textbox.io has a powerful editing and user experience engine designed for the responsive web and mobile applications. Textbox.io has iterated through four major releases, and a fifth release is well underway. Textbox.io has leveraged all of our years of experience and is fast approaching the feature set that we delivered with EditLive!. It is an optimized and modern solution for the new era.
To improve our solution even further, we merged with the makers of TinyMCE in mid-2015. TinyMCE is a well-known brand in browser-based editing and an open source powerhouse. The founders Joakim and Johan saw the potential for plug-in-free editing well before others and the project developed an incredible following of hundreds of thousands of developers. We are very excited to have teamed up with them, and we are now bringing advanced features and support to TinyMCE.
Between Textbox.io and TinyMCE, Ephox has two of the best and most widely used solutions for building rich text editing into your web applications. With the most experienced team in the industry, we are in a good position for the next 15 years of browser-based content creation, as we bring these two projects together and support features we know customers want. Features such as copy-and-paste from Word, image editing, full-table editing, and accessibility. We also are regaining the mantle of having the most cross-platform solutions with our focus on iOS and Android support.
The way forward for EditLive! users
EditLive! continues to be very much alive. Many users have been attracted to our Java-based EditLive! product because of its ease of use and advanced feature set and for the near term they can continue to use it in web applications together with Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari. However, we do recommend that clients, if not already having done do, begin to consider when it would be appropriate to migrate to a Java-free editor for their web applications. Please reach out to discuss how rapid advancements in our Java-free editors can be put to use.
EditLive! will also live on as the best solution for embedding WYSIWYG editing in Java desktop applications. With the Swing package, you can utilize EditLive! with frameworks such as Eclipse and Java Web Start. Oracle has released a white paper describing how to migrate apps to plug-in free Java technology that could potentially continue to use EditLive!
One door closes, and another opens
When I helped start Ephox, there were just 200 million Internet users. Today, there are almost 3 billion Internet users, many of them using mobile devices. Our vision to enable people to contribute to the web is still as relevant today as it was then. Internet technology continues to evolve, and so do we. Few Internet technology pioneers are still thriving, and we are proud to be stronger and better positioned today than we have ever been.