Some Sparring at the Web 2.0 Browser Panel

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Some Sparring at the Web 2.0 Browser Panel

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Surprising announcements and competitive sparring made the Web 2.0 Expo's browser discussion panel very interesting and revealing.  While Mozilla's Brendan Eich (creator of JavaScript) rode the open source high-horse, Giorgio Sardo from Microsoft revealed that IE9 would not run on Windows XP.  While everyone took their potshots at IE6, the more important discussion was about how we can not let IE6 happen again.

IE9: Revelations and Confusion

IE9 was a major topic of conversation.  It seems that all of the browser companies were anxiously (or eagerly) watching the development of IE9's forward-looking new features (hardware acceleration, concurrency, and finally embracing HTML5, CSS3, and SVG).  Google's Alex Russell (Chrome Frame developer and Dojo co-creator) said he was excited about IE9; and why wouldn't he be?  Google's strategy has always been to get more people on the internet, producing more page views, and doing more Google searches.  A fast browser plays right into that goal.

While IE9 is getting ahead of the game on the hardware front, it's behind in one thing - Canvas.  One of the most important specs in HTML5 is not expected to be included in IE9.  When the panel was asked if they wanted to see Canvas in IE9, everyone raised their hands - including Sardo, the Microsoft representative.  When he was asked if it would be included, he wouldn't give a straight answer.  Dion Almaer of Palm (and Ajaxian) said that it shouldn't be a burden for Microsoft to implement Canvas by wiring it into DirectX - he said that it's a tiny spec.  Eich echoed Almaer's sentiments saying, "Canvas is pretty small.  It's like your postscript level to 2D graphics.  We have implemented it for five years now.  It's easy."

That's not the only thing IE9 took heat for at the panel.  It seemed like Sardo had dropped a bombshell when he revealed that IE9 would not be supported by Windows XP.  He said this was because Microsoft is building all of HTML5 with hardware acceleration, and he said that a modern OS was needed for this.  Russell (Google) was puzzled by this because Opera, Mozilla, and Chrome are all doing hardware acceleration on XP.  There could be problems, Russell said, if IE9 tries to push users forward too fast.  "There’s a lot of hardware that isn’t modern hardware," said Charles McCathieNevile, Chief Standards Officer at Opera.  "That’s why people aren’t moving away from XP.  A lot of people don’t want to have to keep up with technology."  With Microsoft's evangelist sitting  on the same panel, Douglas Crockford of Yahoo ('discovered' JSON) still had no problem saying, "I recommend all users of XP migrate to something that isn’t IE."

IE6: Hating it

Crockford also championed a call to rid the world of IE6, which has been forcing browsers and web developers to account for a very low common denominator.  In some markets, especially internationally, Crockford says that IE6 is 40-60% of the market.  Crockford said it's up to web developers to truly bury IE6.  He even suggests a plan for systematically ending IE6 in a short amount of time:  "One day all of us should redirect to a page that says, 'hey, try  one of these browsers.'  We all have to do it on the same day, otherwise we get worried that we’re sending them to our competitor.  I propose that day is 30 days after all modern browsers fully implement ES5 (ECMA Script 5)."

How to Improve Browser Performance

Eich (Mozilla) says that the standards committee for JavaScript (ECMA Script) is currently in "harmony mode," which means they're not fighting.  Right now there are prototype protocols coming in for the Harmony spec.  They're working pretty aggressively, Eich says, and they want to implement a module system and get rid of host objects.  Eich also said that "DOM kinda sucks."

Russell (Google) says many parts of the browser, like interpreters are getting faster.  The things that aren't getting faster include network cables and network behavior, he said.  That's why Google is testing its high speed cables and introducing a new protocol called SPDY.  Russell was also in favor of improving the DOM.

How to Preserve an Open Web

Crockford (Yahoo) brought up a major issue when the panel was asked about the interoperability of browsers.  The mobile space is what worries Crockford: "we have a strong risk of losing openness.  Either proprietary app platforms win because the web can’t innovate fast enough.  Or the web gets captured in a proprietary platform."  We've all seen how much of an impact the iPhone and iPad have had on the web ecosystem.  Now some developers are worried that Apple could have a stranglehold on the mobile domain a few years from now.

There's a lot of money to be made for companies that can dominate a piece of the web.  Eich wasn't afraid to point out other browser makers' agendas in front of them: "Apple makes great products but they want to control what SDK or API you can use.  Google is more aligned with the open web, but they have to have an agenda because of search. With Mozilla we don’t care. We blind ourselves, we don’t see the data, we will never do behavior marketing.  Look at what Facebook has done recently.. users need to have control over their data."

You can find the entire panel discussion on TechCrunch.

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