Archive for December, 2010

Yearly roundup and festive charidee

What a year it’s been. My employer, Opera, went from 100 million users to 150 million, released Opera Mini for iPhone, Opera Mobile for Android and we went up to eleven on desktop.

I’ve had a the first HTML5 book published with my marvellous co-author, Remy Sharp, which is now in its third printing. Other personal highlights include an invitation from Martin Kliehm to speak with him at South By South West; our panel was voted joint third best of the whole conference.

I’ve travelled to Sweden, Poland, Japan and Australia and met many fabulous people. Special shout outs go to my fellow HTML5 Doctor Oli Studholme, whom I met for the first time last month and who shares the mantle of Nicest Guy On The Planet with Roger Hudson, who organised and guided Steve Faulkner and me for our Australian tour, and who has a fascinating store of traveller’s tales from his days in the movies; he was a scriptwriter for the legendary Aussie soap The Young Doctors (here’s a photo of one his original scripts) and now works in accessibility. From screenwriters to screenreaders; what a career trajectory!

Personally I’ll be glad to see the end of 2010. My Dad had heart surgery. I got sick. My two much-loved grandmothers died; they were both very old, and died without pain and without lingering which is the way to do it, but it’s odd not buying those Xmas presents this year. Tragically, a friend’s baby daughter died.

Festive charidee

Regular readers might recall that I don’t send Christmas cards: polluting the planet to transport someone else’s pre-prepared greetings to be stuffed in a landfill seems like a bad way to spend my money, so I give donation to a charity instead. This year, that charity is Amnesty International because we need freedom of conscience, freedom of thought and freedom from cruelty.

In the UK our government wishes to censor the Internet. In France, the home of chic, they have laws telling women what they can wear and, flushed with the success of that, the government has taken to rounding up members of an ethnic group for resettlement in the East.

Meanwhile, the junta that illegally controls Burma had a pretend election that – surprise! – they won again. Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, languishes in a Chinese jail as a political prisoner. Mad people in the USA are calling for the extra-judicial murder of Julian Assange over Wikileaks. Iran, jealous over the publicity that Sudan got for its superb theocratic misogyny video, sentenced Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani to death by stoning although she was acquitted of any crimes. In Malawi, Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza were sentence to 14 years in prison for being gay and showing no remorse about it.

So instead of sending a card to you, I’m sending some cash to Amnesty; please consider doing the same for me.

Have a Happy Consumerfest. Best of luck for 2011.

In praise of Internet Explorer 6

On my last evening in Sydney, I was talking to a couple of web developers of similar vintage to myself, and after we polished our ear trumpets and harangued passers-by with shouts of “You young people don’t know you’re born. We fought in the Browser Wars you know” we sat back with a sherry and a custard cream to begin reminiscing about the old days, way way back when Internet Explorer 6 was a good browser.

Because it was, you know. Back in its day it was state of the art. With its super DOCTYPE switching, it managed to be backwards compatible with the broken IE5 box model, while also being super standards-compliant going forward—a trick that HTML5 is just managing to pull off.

IE6 got CSS *right*. Its main competitor, Netscape 4, didn’t – frequently crashing and dependant upon Javascript. Eventually of course we realised that IE6 was full of bugs and CSS weirdness. But that took a while; nobody knew that then because no-one had ever used CSS for designing pages. And Internet Explorer gave a lot of designers stuff that they wanted: web fonts were there (since IE4). You want to colour your scrollbars? Here’s some proprietary CSS to colour your scrollbars. You want filters for opacity, box shadows, transitions and page dissolves and non-standard behaviors? Have some proprietary extras! “Don’t mind if I do”, said the designers and rationalised their behaviour by saying to each other “IE6 is the highest form of browser. If people aren’t using it that’s their problem the silly fools.”

Maxine suggested that I document this fact before history records that we all hated it from the second it was released: we didn’t hate it at all. We loved it.

For those who already knew that, it’s considered axiomatic that the trouble with IE6 was not IE6 itself but but that once IE6 was released, Microsoft stopped innovating. And that’s true — but it’s only half-true. It gives the impression that designers and developers were immediately begging Microsoft to release an upgrade, to standardise all the proprietary flim-flam that they’d built into the browsers.

But they weren’t. While designers eventually began bemoaning the three pixel trouser-flambé peekaboo bug and the lack of :hover on anything other than links, developers were actively propping up IE6 for years and continued churning out IE-only code for ages because it was much easier for them to assume one platform and even code to its bugs rather than code to standards or cross-browser access.

In fact developers of browser-based applications were so desperate not to move on from their IE6 platform that when Microsoft eventually announced IE7 and IE8, it had to ensure all the legacy browser-based systems wouldn’t break by using some magical metatags and heurisitcs.

To spell it out: IE6 didn’t become a zombie despite designers and developers; it became a zombie because of the active support for a monoculture by application developers.

We can look back now and smile at the idea that IE6 was best of breed. We’ve moved on so much! It’s impossible to imagine a world now in which developers proudly browser-sniff to check that the customer is using the “right” browser on the “right” operating system, while they race to code applications that revolve around non-standard “extensions” thereby locking themselves and their users to one browser because it temporarily has the shiniest proprietary extras. That’s absolutely unthinkable as we approach 2011.

The old days eh? Who’d go back there?