Archive for September, 2008

Speeding adoption of WAI-ARIA

The Web Accessiiblity Initiative’s Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite, WAI-ARIA is a simple way to add information to HTML that can make Ajax applications accessible. It’s being supported by all the big four browsers and screenreaders are starting to support it.

Therefore, although the specification is still formally in “Working Draft” status, the W3C are encouraging authors to use it now. I plan to; it’s the only game in town to add the necessary semantics to lovable old HTML 4 until HTML 5 is widely implemented.

To encourage adoption, there is a mailing list called the Free ARIA google group which you can read and join.

Opera is taking the message to the Ajax crew at the Ajax Experience conference next week, and Anne Van Kesteren is presenting “Ajax 2.0” in which he’ll introduce and demo ARIA (and other exciting things).

Speaking from my experience as a web author, though, one of the things that might slow adoption is the fact that new semantics like ARIA don’t validate against the old HTML specs. As someone who has spent half a decade badgering people about valid code, I know that lots of enlightened organisations don’t allow invalid code on their websites—and these are just the kind of thought-leaders who I’d like to see adopting ARIA.

The experimental HTML 5 validator has support for ARIA but doesn’t have the kudos of the W3C name.

So, I suggest that the W3C to add ARIA to the official validator. That would send a strong message about its commitment to ARIA, as well as allow codeshops, organisations and individuals who want validation to use it, to the immediate benefit of web users with disabilities.

Added Tues 30 September: Steve Faulkner, of the Paciello Group and member of the W3C‘s Protocols and Formats Working Group has asked if the W3C can build an a validator that can test (X)HTML and ARIA conformance.

SEO/ Accessibility video

When I was told that our Fronteers conference talk on Accessiblity and SEO was being videoed, I warned my co-presenter, Vasilis, not to watch himself under any circumstances. (Though you might want to watch it– transciption “coming soon”).

He didn’t heed my warning, and told me today “I didn’t listen to your advice, I watched part of the video of our panel session. I haven’t left the house since and I only talk when it’s dark (-:”

I only managed to sit through 30 seconds – long enough to tell myself to

  • stop fidgeting
  • stop chewing gum
  • lose 10 kilos

and was somewhat chastened to see the first Google ad next to the vid says “Cut down 9 lbs of stomach fat every 2 weeks by obeying this 1 tiny rule”. Even Google thinks I’m fat—the bastard.

Couple of other things:

Hurray for Housman’s Bookshop

Last week, I managed to get a quiet hour to visit a favourite old London haunt of mine: Housman’s, the radical bookseller on Caledonian Road in Kings Cross.

Housman's radical bookshop

Between the mid-eighties and mid-nineties, a Saturday wasn’t complete without a browse round the shop, picking up seminal works like Larry Law’s Spectacular Times pamphlets (a marvellous introduction to Situationaist thinking), Bob Black’s The Abolition of Work, and various free pamplets left there by hopeful wierdos like Christian Anarchists and Lesbian Vegans for Socialism.

It hasn’t changed much; it’s tidier, and some of its magic as being the only place to find such leftwing gems has been taken by the Web, but it’s still a great place. After a brief chat with the guy behind the counter about the anarcho-punk band Conflict (from the London suburb I used to live in) I’d been invited to the shop’s party on the night before this year’s Anarchist Book Fair. You don’t get that at Waterstones.

In some ways, I was a little surprised to find the shop still there, now that Socialism is a dirty word and we’re all shiny happy consumers in our post-historic world. But there it is, with lots of new stock, on the day that the invisible hand of the market almost brought down the bank that has all my savings and my mortgage and proved once again that tossers chasing massive bonuses do not collectively make a self-regulating money market that automatically brings joy and freedom to all.

I got the train back home, with some fascinating new books and pamphlets, and though that it is very unlikely that the UK’s “New Labour” government would keep me afloat if my savings disappeared and my house were repossessed, even though they’re prepared to use taxpayer’s money to shore up the dens of fuckwits who’ve caused the problems. (Really: who could have possiblyb foreseen that begging loads of American poor people to accept loans that they couldn’t repay was an unsustainable business strategy?)

A letter to the Guardian from Professor Anne Watson sums it up perfectly:

I resent taxpayers’ money being spent to shore up the glorified gambling den of the money markets. I have a better idea – taxpayers’ money could go to the lowest-paid to relieve them of having to pay so much. They would spend it and stimulate the economy. We could call it the New Deal. Even better, deal with the housing crisis as well by spending taxpayers’ money on new social housing. We could call it socialism to show we care about people.

Thank god Debord for places like Housman’s that still offer alternatives to the orthodoxy. May it last 100 years.

Any-Element Linking in HTML 5 (sort of)

A while ago, Eric Meyer suggested that HTML 5 should allow any element to turn into a link by taking an href attribute – see his Any-Element Linking Demo. I suggested that, as a stop gap, HTML 5 should legalise the fact that all the big five browsers already allow the a element to surround multiple elements and block level elements.

I’m delighted to report that my fellow Opera lovegod, Anne van Kesteren, tells me that HTML 5 now legalises this behaviour. So instead of coding a news “teaser” like this:

<h3><a href="story.htm">Bruce Lawson as Obama's running mate!</a></h3>
<a href="story.htm"><img src="bruce.jpg" alt="lovegod" /> </a>
<p><a href="story.htm">In answer to McCain's appointment of MILF, Sarah Palin, Obama hires DILF, Bruce Lawson, as his running mate. Read more!</a></p>

you can say:

<a href="story.htm">
<h3>Bruce Lawson as Obama's running mate!</h3>
<img src="bruce.jpg" alt="lovegod" />
<p>In answer to McCain's appointment of MILF, Sarah Palin, Obama hires DILF, Bruce Lawson, as his running mate. Read more!</p>

You can’t nest anchors (“there must be no interactive content descendant”) because that wouldn’t be compatible with current browsers.

2022 can’t come soon enough!

(Of course, you can do this now; that’s kind of the point with lots of the HTML 5 spec.)

Added 2 October: something’s missing

What I can’t believe I didn’t notice until today is that the HTML 5 spec doesn’t handle making rows in tables into links. Ironically, this was Eric’s original use-case—and the main feature of his demo. I noticed it when looking at the WHAT-WG‘s FAQs for something else.

Presumably, it’s not in the spec because it’s not backwardly compatible. Bugger.

(Last Updated on 2 October 2008)

Religion, equality and diversity

I don’t know whether it’s because of talking to Dutch people in The Netherlands, recently reading Richard Dawkins, or the preposterous accusations of institutional racism against my previous employer, but I’ve been thinking a lot about “Equality and Diversity” recently.

It could be because when got a taxi to the airport, my taxi driver told me that he felt so sick and sleepy because of the Ramadan fast that he was worried that he would crash.

That got me thinking. Would it be “religious discrimination” if I refused to travel with a fasting driver? There’s no way that I’d get into a vehicle with a drunk driver, or one who was driving dangerously because he was talking on his mobile all the time. A legal difference is that it’s possible to verify blood/alcohol levels, where as it’s not possible to do a test for “weak and hungry”. But I see no moral difference: all are choosing to do something that potentially endangers me.

Discriminating against someone because of their religion, like disability, race or sexual discrimination, is a no-no in today’s Equality and Diversity industry. But why? It’s obviously unfair to discriminate against things that people can’t control, like the colour of their skin, disabilities or sexuality. But religion is a lifestyle choice. No-one is born into a religion and (in the free West) a particular religion is forced on no-one. And if someone chooses a certain lifestyle, why should that be legally protected? Certainly, one’s right to choose is a legal right that I absolutely uphold—but why should the results of that choice have any legal or moral privilege?

Being gay, or female, or of a certain ethnicity has no bearing on your ability to do a job. Being disabled may, but employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments because people don’t choose to be disabled. However, some people’s ability to do their jobs can be compromised by their religious choices. My wife was refused a morning-after pill by a doctor whose religion forbade family planning. Why should that doctor be allowed to foist her religious views onto a patient—a patient whose taxes pay her salary?

In fact, why should anyone’s religious beliefs be respected? If you are a jew who will not shake hands with a woman because she might be menstruating and therefore “unclean” believes that a menstruating woman is “unclean”, why should it be discriminatory if I decided not to employ you if you display such misogyny to female colleagues or customers?

If you are a hindu who believes christians and muslims should be killed, or a christian who thinks it’s legitimate to murder abortion workers, why shouldn’t I openly treat your views with contempt?

(Last Updated on 4 October 2008)

Hurray for Amsterdam and Fronteers

What a lovely city Amsterdam is. And what jolly civilised people the Dutch are. I had a lovely couple of days at the Fronteers conference.

The organisers laid on a boat trip through the canals of Amsterdam, free conference beer during the afternoon break of each day and an aftershow party with traditional Dutch food.

I challenged the Pete Le Page from the Internet Explorer team to a drinking contest. Although I initially threatened to drink so much that he would have Layout, we eventually called a truce thanks to the diplomacy of that Henry Kissinger of DHTML, Stuart Langridge (seen making the peace sign). The other presenters were as charming as Pete, and I was especially glad to meet Vasilis van Gemert, with whom I’d worked to get our slides together.

Thanks PPK, Fronteers members and all the attendees for a lovely conference.

The slides for the panel that Vasilis and I presented on SEO and accessibility are on the Opera Developer’s Network.

(Last Updated on 18 September 2008)

Jottings, a hello, releases, apologies

A mixed bag of a post as I rush to get a plane to Amsterdam for the Fronteers conference that starts tomorrow (I’m speaking—come along!).

UK government draft browser guidance is daft browser guidance

I’ve written a piece for the Web Standards Project about a new government consulation on proposed guidelines on browser testing. Sounds yawnorama, I know, but please read it and respond to the government: if it goes unchallenged, it will reduce choice, inconvenience users of government websites and lock smaller browsers (like Opera, who I work for) out of the market. It looks like we struck a chord; Adam, who wrote the draft guidelines, says that they’ve had approximately 400 responses already. In three days!

Accessiblity in suit and tie

I’ve written a piece for thinkVitamin called Accessibilty in suit and tie about how to “sell” accessibility inside a corporate organisation, with crap technology and the like. It’s a more generic version of my long long article Standards-based corporate web development.

Hello Henny!

When I started at Opera, the top guys said to each other “Why do we only have one übergroovy kickboxing accessibility-lovin’ glamorous web evangelist? We need two! And make the other one a dame!”. Three months and an executive notice period later, in comes Henny Swann fresh from the RNIB and WaSP. (Note to Nate Koechley: Yes, Henny is a girl.)

What a great team of good-looking guys and gals I work with.

New Opera releases

Want to build your own browser in a device?

Then use the Opera 9.6 SDK to build an Opera browser in your TV, picture frame, tablet etc. This new version comes with the same compression used for Opera Mini on mobile phones, so it’s pretty jolly fast. (Developer documentation)

Opera 9.6 beta released

We’ve also released a beta version of Opera 9.6 desktop. This adds some privacy settings I like (so bookmarked URLs don’t appear in the autocomplete address bar, which can be embarrassing at presentations) and adds a low-bandwidth mode for the Opera mail client, plus some useful UI tweaks. Download it but please be aware it’s beta software, so please install it separately from your current 9.5 install

Multipack meeting on Saturday

For West Midlands web developers, and those who care for them, there’s the regular multipack meeting at The Old Joint Stock in Birmingham, to catch up with all the goss from Geek in the Park and dConstruct. Wish I could be there (but will be flying in from Amsterdam) as it’s always a pleasure and a warm welcome.

(Last Updated on 29 September 2008)

See me at Fronteers Amsterdam, dConstruct write-up

The summer hols are over and it’s conference season again. This week, on Thursday 11 and Friday 12 September, I’ll be at Fronteers in sleepy Amsterdam, speaking with the lovely Vasilis about SEO and accessibility. Chris Mills from Opera will be talking about Professionalism, and Anne van Kesteran will present on video in HTML 5.

In addition to the Opera Tambourine Band, you can see luminaries like Microsoft’s Pete Le Page pimping discussing IE 8, Christian Heillman and Stuart Langridge doing inimitable JavaScript ginger ninja things, and the co-inventor of CSS, Bert Bos, will be talking about the CSS box model. (Here’s the full line-up).

PPK is the organiser, and says that it

will focus narrowly on CSS and JavaScript…We have asked all speakers to dig deep into one narrowly defined topic of their choice. Therefore the Fronteers 2008 sessions will likely have a highly technical bend and discuss advanced tips and tricks.

Tickets are 250 Euro-thingies (which is about £200 in proper money) for both days, lunch and Party. See you there, I hope.

dConstruct 2008

I had a jolly good time for my first ever dConstruct, as evidenced by my dConstruct 2008 Photos. Despite the horrid weather and over-abundance of beer, I even managed to listen to some sessions.

The highlight for me was Joshua Porter’s “L****aging Cognitive Bias in Social Design” (sorry, I can’t bring myself to type the L-word). There were lots of interesting copywriting and design techniques discussed, and a very useful statisitic: on one client website he increased sales by between 10 and 20% simply by removing the requirement to register with the site before the purchasing process.

Opera sponsored the transcribing of the speeches, so I’ll soon put a link to that speech here (but here’s Alistair Campbell’s notes for now.)

The people at the conference were awesome; it was great to hang out with old mates like Matt and Pete Aylward and new mates like the lads from Finland, the groovy accessibility chicks and Jake Smith, a scouser with the temerity to call me a “pint-sized walking ASBO“.

Usability people wanted

Want to be Bristol’s answer to Jakob Nielsen? Well, you can’t be, because Alistair Campbell does that. But the company he works for, Nomensa, are hiring usability people, so send them your CV. If you get the gig, you owe me a meal out. Deal?

On Google Chrome

I’m a Web Evangelist for Opera, but this post does not represent the official Opera position.

It comes as no surprise that Google was working on its own browser. When your entire multi-billion dollar business is on the web, you’re inevitably going to want some control over the mechanism by which people view it.

I imagine that Chrome was built as a Google Docs viewer. Google owns search, so can serve up adverts when people are doing that. But most people spend a lot of the day typing into Word, Excel etcetera, and not looking at Google’s adverts. Similarly, most people don’t use the vast majority of the features of Microsoft Office, so don’t need to pay the large sum of money that the Office suite costs. If those people can be persuaded to use Google Docs, Google can simultaneously deprive Microsoft of some revenue while showing discreet ads in the document.

Google Chrome has Gears built in, so people can work on the document when they’re off the web, and save shortcuts to documents on their desktop, just like a traditional desktop application. It’s also why Chrome is relatively lacking in chrome and browser controls: it feels less like the web and more like the desktop.

It seems to me that Chrome is designed to compete with Microsoft Windows as an Operating System and Office as an application: Microsoft’s biggest revenue earners (as far as I know).

It surprised me that it didn’t choose Gecko (the engine that powers Firefox), having invested so much in making Firefox fly. But I guess it pays not to keep all your eggs in one basket. Certainly, it doesn’t want to kill Firefox; it still makes a lot of money from people searching through it. And browsers aren’t its prey.

Competition between browsers can only help a consumer, although it can hurt developers if it’s like the Microsoft/ Netscape browser wars. But Google chose Webkit, which powers Apple’s Safari, so it should be pretty standards-compliant and therefore be not too onerous to test, and therefore little of an overhead for businesses with websites or those who make them.

This competition will also help us at Opera. Firstly, on those services Google provides (like Maps, Docs and Analytics) we’ve had compatibility problems as Google didn’t test with Opera properly. Those days are over: it can’t be evil and deny entry to a competitor (which we are, in the browser market). Google now advocates testing across all browsers:

Internet users have an increasing number of choices for web browsers today, including Firefox, Safari, Opera, and now Google Chrome. Sometimes web pages look and work differently in each browser, so it’s important to test your site across all of them to ensure all your visitors can enjoy the experience you’ve designed. (My emphasis)

There are a lot of features of Chrome borrowed from other browsers. Google acknowledges the influence of Firefox and WebKit, but not all the things it borrowed from Opera, which is a shame, but we’re used to it: Ben Ward wrote on Jon Hicks’ blog

I think I’m just sour at their presentation of Opera’s features as their own. The whole comic reads like the speed dial and omnibar are ingenious ideas that Google thought up to revolutionise your web experience. Then whilst Mozilla and WebKit get special thanks in the final panel, Opera gets nothing.

I don’t even use Opera, but in an industry where we preach so much about attribution and respect for the work of others, I’m not happy at the way Google have just danced in like this.

I replied “if there’s one thing that my three months at Opera has taught me (apart from how to drink like a Norwegian) it’s that Opera is constantly overlooked when it comes to doling out the props for its innovations or initiatives.” (That could be why we’re even overlooked in the Chrome user agent string Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US) AppleWebKit/525.13 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/0.X.Y.Z Safari/525.13, thereby identifying itself to web servers as 1) Mozilla 2) WebKit, 3) KHTML, 4) Gecko, 5) Safari and 6) itself.)

The best thing about Chrome to me is the exposure it’s getting. It was even on the TV news last night. Hopefully, people who always thought that the big blue “e” and the Internet were synonymous will now realise that there is choice in the browser market, and they will make that choice rather than go with the pre-installed browser. Some will choose Chrome, some will choose Firefox and some will choose Opera, and that’s how it should be.

What’s your take, dear chums?

Browser tests (added Sunday 7 Sept)

Techradar tested Chrome against Safari and Opera, concluding the overall winner is Opera, saying

We’re big fans of Apple hardware and software, but Safari for Windows is half-arsed. It’s great on the Mac, but we can’t think of a reason why Windows users would want it – especially now Chrome offers essentially the same rendering engine with a better interface, lower memory usage and better performance.

So Chrome wins? Not quite. It definitely has the edge when it comes to JavaScript performance, but speed isn’t everything – if it was, our cars wouldn’t have doors, roofs, stereos or air-conditioning. Creature comforts are important to most of us, and on that front Opera is the only browser here that really delivers.

(Last Updated on 7 September 2008)

Old friends in August

August was miserable as far as the weather was concerned, and pretty intense as the wife and kids went away on hols so all I did 14 hour days most days to try to get up to speed with working for a web browser.

What was lovely about August was the opportunities to hang out with some really cool old mates. Firstly, my old colleague and fellow union rep Bill from MVS/ JCL programming days in the late eighties. We shared several beers in Birmingham and discovered that we remain godless lefties. Hurrah!

Then, my marvellously debauched mate Johnny came to visit from Osaka. Originally a colleague from Bangkok, Johnny looks no different now, ten years, 400 women and 9,000,000 pints later.

The bank holiday saw a family celebration for my kid brother’s 40th birthday.

And last weekend it was off to Cambridge to the home of Steph and her Algerian husband, George. Steph introduced me to my wife when we worked in Thailand and is a woman of great wisdom who can sing “Hotel California” in a seedy Soi Cowboy bar even when incoherently drunk.

George cooked a pre-Ramadan Algerian barbeque and we were joined by Masako, who’s visiting from Thailand with her 7 month baby bump and three year old daugher, Shalala (horrible post-sneeze photo).

Thanks all for such a cool set of reunions!