ENTRIES TAGGED "browser"
Web technologies have become the default, and are spreading
A few years ago, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen wrote that “software is eating the world”:
Six decades into the computer revolution, four decades since the invention of the microprocessor, and two decades into the rise of the modern Internet, all of the technology required to transform industries through software finally works and can be widely delivered at global scale.
That may be true, but Andreessen seems to have left out some of his earlier, more Web-centric visions (though perhaps he considers them complete).
Software may be eating the world, but the Web has been “eating software” in a similar sense for as long as the Web has been visible.
On the front end, the browser has grown from being a strange dumb terminal of documents and forms to a full partner. The browser not only provides a window into the world of classic websites, but helps us deal with devices that we can reach over a network. Their interfaces may be invisible or basic on the physical device, but offer much more when accessed through a browser. Web apps, though frequently not as capable as their desktop competition, long ago passed the point where their collaborative possibilities were more valuable than the details they lack.
The changing landscape of web platform extensibility
From its nascent days, the growth of the web has been marked by the waxing and waning of technologies, frameworks and ideas. Old ideas and technologies expire and fade away, and new ones arise in their place. Much as the cicada molts and leaves behind an old shell as it moves into adulthood, the web has seen countless ideas come and go as it has evolved.
Relics (and Catalysts) of the Web
Remember XHTML? More specifically, do you remember caring deeply about XHTML? You likely do. Do you still care about XHTML? Chances are, the answer is no. The same goes for Flash, DHTML, HTML Components and countless other buzzwords of the web that once felt so alive and important, and now feel like relics of another time.
Occasionally, however, we collectively stumble upon ideas and technologies that stand the test of time. These are ideas that don’t just evolve with the web–they are often a catalyst for the evolution of the web itself. Ideas like Cascading Style Sheets and XMLHTTPRequest, the vendor hack that spurred the AJAX revolution, are two examples among many.
Live coding a shopping cart and other rich web UI goodness
In his talk, Rich Web UIs with Knockout.js, Steve quickly summarized the problems Knockout solves and why Knockout is a particularly strong candidate to solve those problems, before working on a shopping cart example to show off how bindings, including custom bindings, work within Knockout.
Some key parts of Todd’s talk include:
- A description of the problem Knockout solves [at 00:41]
- What is Knockout and MVVM? [at 01:38]
- 4 unique things about Knockout [at 03:12]
- Live coding a shopping cart [at 06:02]
- Summary [at 20:15]
Anyone with a further interest in Knockout should check out the project’s homepage and particularly the live Hello World example and interactive online tutorial which guides you through building a Web UI using the MVVM pattern with Knockout.js in an interactive sandbox-style environment.
One speaker at Fluent 2013 whose talk was particularly well received was Todd Kloots of Twitter who spoke about HTML5′s pushState API and demonstrated how it was used in Twitter’s Web-based interface.
Some key parts of Todd’s talk include:
- The opportunity Twitter saw in pushState [at 01:45]
- What you had to do with dynamic URLs before pushState [at 02:46]
- A summary of the pushState API [at 06:10]
- Gotchas and browser support [at 07:58]
- How pushState sped up navigation on Twitter.com without re-architecting [at 12:15]
- What Twitter had to do server-side to make progressive enhancement work [at 19:11]
- Final thoughts [at 31:37]
- Q&A [at 32:15]
Creating flexible expectations
“Expect the unexpected” has long been a maxim of web development. New browsers and devices arrive, technologies change, and things break. The lore of web development isn’t just the technology: it addresses the many challenges of dealing with customers who want to lock everything down.
Is there room for programmers to tell a similar story?
I don’t mean agile. Agile development is difficult enough to explain to clients, but applications that adapt to their circumstances are a separate set of complications. Iterating on adaptable behaviors may be more difficult than iterating on adaptable designs, but it opens new possibilities both for applications and for the evolution of the Web.
Responsive Web Design is (slowly) becoming the new baseline, giving designers a set of tools for building pages that (usually) provide the same functionality while adapting to different circumstances. Programmers sometimes provide different functionality to different users, but it’s more often about cases where users have different privileges than about different devices and contexts.
Adjusting how content displays is complex enough, but modifying application behavior to respond to different circumstances is more unusual. The goal of most web development has been to provide a single experience across a variety of devices, filling in gaps whenever possible to support uniformity. The history of “this page best viewed on my preferred browser” is mostly ugly. Polyfills, which I think have a bright future, emerged to create uniformity where browsers didn’t.
Browsers, though, now provide a huge shared context. Variations exist, of course, and cause headaches, but many HTML5 APIs and CSS3 features can work nicely as supplements to a broader site. Yes, you could build a web app around WebRTC and Media Capture and Streams, and it would only run on Firefox and Chrome right now. But you could also use WebRTC to help users talk about content that’s visible across browsers, and only the users on Firefox and Chrome would have the extra video option. The Web Audio API is also a good candidate for this, as might be some graphics features.
This is harder, of course, with things like WebSockets that provide basic functionality. For those cases, polyfills seem like a better option. Something that seems as complicated and foundational as IndexedDB could be made optional, though, by switching whether data is stored locally or remotely (or both).
HTML5 and CSS3 have re-awakened Web development. I’m hoping that we can develop new practices that let us take advantage of these tools without having to wait for them to work everywhere. In the long run, I hope that will create a more active testing and development process to give browser vendors feedback earlier—but getting there will require changing the expectations of our users and customers as well.
OSCON 2013 Speaker Series
Scoping Code to the Data
Every website has its own navigation structure, layout, and audience, but when you strip away these unique attributes of websites, you are left with data– chats, emails, photos– that can be treated uniformly across all websites. Operations on these data like encryption and signing, can be performed with indifference to their context and their contents.
Privly uses data indifference to create the notion of “Injectable Applications,” which are full web applications that are injected into the context of other web application. Since these applications are scoped to data and not layout, their properties are simplified and usable across the web.
In short, if you scope an application to the data, then the cryptography can be viewed in potentially untrusted contexts.
Pre-Distributing Client Code
Privly creates an ecosystem of apps with known properties because it allows us to reason about security uniformly across the web. However, security is only as strong as the weakest attack point, which is why great care must be taken to appropriately distribute these applications. By packaging a set of applications for integration into browser extensions and mobile apps, the code is not re-loaded from a remote source every time the browser loads a new page.
Requiring users to install an extension before they can view content is likely an impediment for any security system looking to gain users. However, since Privly uses hyperlinks to reference the content, it provides opportunity for a hosted fallback application. Depending on the nature of the injectable application, clicking the hyperlink could either present the same application as normally delivered by the extension, or present a prompt to install the appropriate browser extension.
Fault lines make conversation difficult
It's time for developers to create their own vocabularies
When HTML first appeared, it offered a coherent if limited vocabulary for sharing content on the newly created World Wide Web. Today, after HTML has handed off most of its actual work to other specifications, it’s time to stop worrying about this central core and let developers choose their own markup vocabularies and processing.
When the W3C first formed, it formed around HTML, the core standard of content on the Web, defining the structure, appearance, and behavior of content. Over the next few years, however, it became clear that HTML was doing too much, and the W3C and other groups refactored appearance, behavior, and many semantics into separate specifications:
Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) took responsibility for presentation and layout.
WAI-ARIA took responsibility for accessibility semantics, ensuring that content remained available to a broad audience even if developers pushed the current boundaries of markup.