18 November 2008

A rant

I have tried hard not to fill this blog with random off-topic rants. I am about to break that rule. If you do not wish to read my rant, please move on - normal service will be resumed shortly.

There is some (tenuous) relevancy about this rant. I will mention user interfaces!

My rant is about iPod's. No no, sorry, its about iPod users and iPod headphones.

I use an iPod. I use it because it was given to me and is 8Gb whereas my MP3 player of choice (a Creative Zen Stone Plus) is only 4Gb. It is a 3rd gen nano and is truly wondrous to hold and behold. I find the sound quality lacking in comparison to the two Creative players I have had, but it serves my needs adequately.

I am not such a fan of using the iPod. I often find myself getting frustrated at the imprecise and slow controls - I just want to move to a position within a track and change volume without waiting for the interface to allow me!

Anyway, I was sitting on the train this morning - not listening to my iPod - and the woman sitting next to me was listening to hers with the rather poor, but iconic iPod headphones.

She felt she had to have the volume turned to maximum just to be able to hear her music through those rubbish and very leaky headphones! This resulted in the whole carriage "enjoying" her music along with her. And I got the brunt of it.

In short - if you have an iPod, buy some decent headphones!


3 November 2008

Browser wars

To finish up this little series of posts about browser standards, I wanted to refer to the browser wars and ask this simple question:

Do we need another browser war?

Well? What do you think?

I think we cannot have another browser war in quite the same way. When it was Netscape vs Internet Explorer, every user spoke (or perhaps didn't speak) and chose (or perhaps was simply given) Internet Explorer. What then happened is that all the proprietary features of IE could be safely used whilst knowing there was a very high support rate.

Since IE6 came out and the browser war ended, there was a little stagnation but really what happened was that people got a bit bored and wanted more. So Firefox came along as a viable competitor. That was the time to have a browser war. The moment has passed.

Right now there is too much competition (or maybe none - its hard to tell) between the browser vendors. The market is too segmented. We now need the vendors to follow a standard spec. And so we get into the sordid world of the W3C and standards.


Yesterday, I posted about some of my thoughts on web standards. It raised some questions for me. It was a post I was reluctant to make but only because I could not reasonably say in one post how I feel and what I think about the current state of affairs. I don't want this blog to descend into a series of rants about the W3C and standards etc etc.

I will attempt now to clarify my thoughts on where we should go from here.

Firstly, I think we do need to make progress. We need to move things forwards. We cannot stagnate. We must find ways to innovate. However, I don't think we have even scratched the surface of what is commercially possible and viable given today's technology. The browser has proven itself to be a remarkable platform capable of producing almost any sort of UI.

So here are some thoughts for each proposed standard:

  1. HTML 5
    I am unconvinced by large parts of the spec and I think it is far too large a specification. I want to see greater interoperability between the various browsers and as such I believe simplification would be better. I also strongly believe that the next spec should enforce an XML type syntax. Its easier to maintain and easier to find errors. I would encourage the browser vendors to simplify their parsing engines, not force them into more complicated solutions.

  2. CSS 3
    The power of CSS is in its expressive simplicity. This will not be lost within CSS 3, but do we really need much more on top of CSS 2.1? Do we need to have 4 rendering engines in wide use which are trying to implement a load of new CSS properties that will not be widely used? Are we not better off getting the current specs properly implemented with perhaps a few additions (multiple background images comes to mind) which can be progressively applied using the principles of progressive enhancement?

  3. JavaScript 2
    I do not think JavaScript should gain classes and I do not think the language should be greatly extended. Interfaces may be a useful addition, but generally I just think a little tidying is needed. Its in the DOM that work is required. Lets get the DOM objects of the various browsers to be more closely aligned with each other.

What I am generally advocating is a simplification of the specs to make them manageable for browser vendors. Lets give the browser vendors an easier task to get themselves up to scratch and then lets ask them to add new features. As always these new features should be able to be applied using the principles of progressive enhancement.

The savior for us all could be JavaScript libraries. They transcend the browser differences hiding them conveniently. Of course that creates a level of ignorance about those issues amongst some, but they are undeniably popular and successful.

But the world of JavaScript libraries is amazingly similar to the early world of the browser. They all do basically the same things but in quite different ways. Some libraries do some things well, others do other things well. Funnily enough, libraries need to converge on something of a unified API. Just like the browsers.

So for the foreseeable future, the web developer will continue to bridge the gap with ingenuity, cunning, blood, sweat and tears. Its OK for me, but will it still be OK in 10 years time? Will we still be in the same situation in 10 years time? Sadly, I think yes. Does this dull my passion for my job? Absolutely not! I enjoy dealing with these vagaries and having to think on my feet every day!

Surely though, we can sort this out, one way or another...