Venkman thoughts 2011, part 2

First of all, thanks to everyone who’s responded so far to my statement about Venkman dying yesterday. I’ve had a few thoughts and a few communications since then, and I thought I’d try to answer them here.

Venkman versus Firebug

The most important question I’ve gotten so far is “Well, what does Venkman have that Firebug doesn’t?” As I said in comments, I don’t know, because I have almost never used Firebug. Apparently, several years ago, a few people talked about it (search results courtesy of For example:

Since my blog isn’t really a good place to collect this data, I figured I’d start a comparison wiki page where we can collect the features of each. Firebug and Venkman fans, please, help me out with some facts – log in and write them down!

On another note, the question itself bothers me a bit. Eight years ago, you could ask “What does Macintosh do that Windows doesn’t?” We were in a monoculture back then (and still are). You could ask “What does Mozilla do that Internet Explorer doesn’t?” about eight years ago, too. Again, a monoculture existed then.

I agree, Firebug is a very impressive tool, even if I haven’t used it very much. (Something about it’s good, if so many people use it and support it regularly.) Also, remember Firebug itself came years after Venkman… and JavaScript debugging was a monoculture then too. Firebug had a compelling answer then. Venkman, having languished in the shadows for years, doesn’t really have a compelling answer now, but that’s beside the point.

When you have at least two complete, healthy projects using the same interfaces, you’re probably doing something right. The W3C works like this: few specifications reach Proposed Recommendation status without two independent complete implementations. The spec may have bugs, and the implementations certainly will… but it provides a level of confidence that the spec is usable.

Now, someone might write a JS debugger UI independent of both Firebug and Venkman, using jsd2… and that’s great. The question bothers me, and I thought I was answering it above… I can’t put my finger on what it is that bothers me right now, but it’s a gut feeling.

The Venkman community: diehards

The second thing I notice from replies so far is that there are a few enthusiasts still out there. 🙂 It’s nice to know, and it’s appreciated. No one’s committed to working on a rewrite yet (not surprising – it’s a huge task). I certainly haven’t figured out high-level details of a rewrite project yet. My goal yesterday was to start the conversation, but to move on, I need somewhere I and others can at least white-board a bit.

I don’t even have a viable code name for the rewrite yet. (The best I’ve come up with so far is “Spengler”.) I’m open to suggestions – maybe WikiMo, maybe somewhere else.

The only thing I know we need and don’t have right now is a good “dockable XUL panels” implementation. Neil Deakin filed bug 554926 for this. This is not what I would call a “good first bug” by any means, but I suspect a lot of editor applications would love having this. (Komodo Edit, my Verbosio project, BlueGriffon, etc.) I envision using XUL panel elements to replace the floating windows Venkman currently provides. Panels in general could use a lot of help – see XUL:Panel_Improvements for details. I’m sure Neil would welcome patches.

Next steps

I don’t know yet. It’s too soon for me to call anything like a “Town Hall” for Venkman replacement efforts. I’m still trying to identify people willing to actively contribute time and talent. If it were me and Gijs alone, forget about it arriving in the next three years. We need help if it’s going to get done.

4 thoughts on “Venkman thoughts 2011, part 2”

  1. Can Venkman step from page JS into chrome JS (if there is some)? And vice versa?
    (From Alex: Yes, it can, to my knowledge.)
    Can Chromebug do the same?
    (From Alex: I don’t know.)

  2. I don’t think many people will take you seriously unless you at least try Firebug, and try it with an open mind so you know what the situation is.

  3. Dan, it’s not an issue of not trying to work with Firebug, it’s that Firebug doesn’t work. We’re talking about chrome-level debugging here.

  4. If you are looking for ideas you might try Chromebug 1.7 on Firefox 4.0. It supports most of the Firebug features for chrome level debugging. We used it extensively in the development of Firebug, as well as our tracing and testing tools (FBTrace and FBTest).

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