Another Example of Why I Question Some of Google’s Technical Decisions

@gnat brought to my attention a Hacker News post by JavaScript creator, Brendan Eich, that tries to unpack the real motivations and possible outcomes of Google’s recently announced in browser programming language, Dart. I’ll admit the day job has been keeping me so busy that while I saw the announcement, I didn’t have time to read through even the high level details. Eich hits on the most salient points in his criticism of Google’s disingenuous move to “fix” what it deems as “unfixable” in JavaScript by claiming to be advancing an open replacement.

We’re in a multi-browser market. Competitors try (some harder than others, pace Alex Russell’s latest blog post) to work together in standards bodies. This does not necessarily mean everything takes too long (Dart didn’t take a month or a year — it has been going longer than that, in secret).

[…]

Dart goes the wrong way and is likely to bounce off other browsers. It is therefore anti-open-web in my book. “The end justifies the means” slaves will say “but but but it’ll eventually force things to get better”. Maybe it will, but at high cost. More likely, it won’t, and we’ll have two problems (Dart and JS).

Honestly, I am a little sick of the hubris that accompanies decisions like this. I’ve explained my admiration for Mozilla repeatedly before as an increasingly necessary counterbalance to Google’s now established pattern of eschewing community developed open standards in favor of its own efforts. Chrome instead of Firefox, Web-M instead of Theora, Plus instead of a federated social network approach using ActivityStreams, OStatus, etc.

In the interest of disclosure, and fairness, I collaborate daily with folks at Google. They do much that is needful and even admirable. In this one area, however, I think there needs to be more forcefully and clearly asked questions each succesive time Google charts its own way, often at the expense of the open web community.

Brendan Eich on Hacker News, via @gnat

Mozilla Labs Gaming Announces First Competition

I wrote about the new gaming initiative from Mozilla Labs a little while ago when it launched. Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb notes the announcement by that project of its first gaming competition.

Mozilla, home of the popular Firefox browser, has announced a new effort to challenge the dominance of Adobe Flash in the casual gaming market. Called Game On 2010, the effort is an international competition that will highlight “games built, delivered and played on the open Web and the browser.” The crux of the issue is no Flash allowed.

The contest will run between now and January 11th of next year. Marshall notes there is skepticism that HTML5 and related technologies are quite to the level needed to take on Flash directly. He, at least, seems game to see what the development community might come up with.

I think the pump is definitely well primed. I noodled around with several of the JS1K entries from that contest I linked to yesterday. If some addictively fun games can be written in less than a kilobyte of JavaScript, imagine what will come of Mozilla’s contest regardless of how the entries stack up to Flash. I also think efforts like these will keep pushing newer killer apps into the conscious of users such that demand for advanced, open standards will only grow to the benefit of all.

Mozilla Takes Aim at Flash-based Casual Games, ReadWriteWeb

WebM Powered Semantic Video Demo

From the WebM project blog[1], a link to a JavaScript and WebM powered demo on what is possible with open video when it also carries rich metadata. It is actually just a taste of a larger project, Web Made Movies[2], looking to really push what is possible with open video and the latest generation of web technologies. The JavaScript library, Popcorn.js[3], that made it possible is downloadable though I cannot find an explicit license to figure out what obligations, if any, you incur by forking (as the github page openly invites everyone to do) and making changes.

I had to reload the demo once or twice to get the features to work, once they did, wow. It is a little overwhelming but an effective demo. I used the latest beta of Firefox 4.

The video in question is well worth watching in its own right. It and Web Made Videos a project made under the auspices of Mozilla’s Drumbeat initiative. Drumbeat specifically aims to pull in all kinds of people, not just techies, to build on and highlight what is possible with the open standards of the web. The film maker responsible for the demo page is Brett Gaylor, one of my favorites for his “RIP: A Remix Manifesto” documentary.


1. WebM Semantic Video Demo, WebM project blog
2. Web Made Movies
3. Mozilla’s Popcorn.js, Github

TCLP 2010-05-23 News

This is news cast 214, an episode of The Command Line Podcast.

In the intro, thanks to new monthly donor, John Taylor Williams and his wife, Mia. Thank you to fellow Flattr beta testers who have been flattring my posts. I should have an update on how this service compares to donations and ads at the end of the month. My Balticon schedule is up, if you are going to be there, come and say high. Better yet, join me for the unofficial FLOSS and Tech Geek BoF. There will be no news show that Sunday but should be feature casts before and after the weekend.

This week’s security alerts are Chrome’s private mode leaks info and FTC looks into privacy concerns with digital copiers.

In this week’s news opening of VP-8 video codec becomes so much more including news event Microsoft will support it (kind of) and YouTube will switch to it for larger videos going forward, a technical analysis of VP-8 now that it is open, Facebook’s urge towards social utility will invite regulation, and an early, official history of NSA computers.

Following up this week The Pirate Party steps in to host The Pirate Bay and EFF issues a strong criticism of Google’s latest privacy mistake.

[display_podcast]

Grab the detailed show notes with time offsets and additional links either as PDF or OPML. You can also grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Following Up for the Week Ending 5/23/2010

feeds | grep links > New Copyright for Chile, Microsoft for HMTL5, AT&T’s Comment to IP Czar and Rumored Patent Attack on Theora

  • Chile gets a new copyright law
    As Mike Masnick explains it at Techdirt, it doesn’t sound as radical as India’s. The new limits and exceptions are no doubt welcome but hardly sweeping. Worse, the come at the expense of stiffer penalties for infringement.
  • Microsoft speaks up for HTML5, against Flash
    Engadget has a link to comments from an IE program manager. I think this is hardly a surprise giving the drubbing IE is taking at the hands of every other browser that is already support parts of HTML5. Since this in the wakes of Jobs’ hate letter to Adobe over Flash, Microsoft touches on that too, conceding some points to Jobs but bowing to the ubiquity of Flash.
  • Surprising comments by AT&T to IP Czar
    As Nate Anderson at Ars Technica explains, AT&T isn’t against three strikes but is for a lesser obligation from 3rd parties, such as itself, and more judicial oversight. It may seem surprising until you realize the costs the carrier would have to bear to process the notices required by a three strikes proposal.
  • Apple rumored to be assembling patent pool to use against Ogg Theora
    It is a very good thing that Google announced its intent to open the VP-8 video codec that it got as part of its On2 acquisition. According to The Register, Jobs plan may have be provoked, or merely revealed, when an FSF advocate contacted him about open video in response to his Flash letter. While this is very speculative, it could slow Theora adoption so having another open codec backed by Google hedges the bets of those of us interested in open standards and open source for video on the web.

Jobs’ Use of HTML5 to Justify Flash Exclusion is Disingenuous

I am no big fan of Flash but this letter from Apple’s chief rationalizing the exclusion of Adobe’s technology from its mobile OS just irritates me. Sarah Perez has a succinct summary of the letters points if you don’t want to wade through Jobs’ sense of smugness. She has some good analysis around the timing as well as a reprint of the letter in case Apple pulls it. I think her reasoning around the odd place in the market filled by the iPad makes as much sense as any attempt to divine the intentions of Apple’s increasingly capricious tyrant.

The letter irritates me because it co-opts some of the rhetoric leveled against Apple recently by its critics, myself included. One of the points is how Adobe’s Flash is closed and entirely controlled by Adobe. How could these words have been penned without someone’s head exploding is beyond me. Another part of the defense is to point out at how great a job Apple is doing fostering an open standard, HTML5. I have no technical quibbles with that claim, other than skipping over KHTML’s role in the evolution of WebKit. It is a total dodge, though, when the iPhone is considered as an entire platform. It in no way excuses their own utter dictatorship over native applications.

As far as experience of the web goes, yes, Apple’s support of HTML5 is nice but it is disingenuous. Some of Jobs’ criticism of Flash as poorly suited to a touch capable, mobile device can also be applied to Mobile Safari and HTML5. Suggesting that the experience and capabilities between a native application and a web based one are equivalent is just wrong.

Yes, Mobile Safari leads the pack but it still lags behind where it could be. Touch support for anything other than pinch to zoom is a joke. I am sure the faster processor on the newer iPhones and the iPad hide the disparity but there is a gap in performance between HTML5 based web applications and native applications. The crappy multiple tab support is in no way comparable to a full application that gets its own process and OS resources. When iPhone OS 4.0 comes with whizzy multitasking (ripped off of Android’s design for 3rd party multitasking), the gap will become all the more apparent.

Apple would fix this if it was serious about web applications. The full version of WebKit is exploring better compartmentalization and multiprocess support for web applications. Some version of that in Mobile Safari would go a long way. Or allowing web pages stored as icons on the home screen to launch separate browser instances would be an even easier hack to make the web better situated in comparison to native applications. Maybe now that Opera Mini is available for the iPhone, it will urge Apple forward but I doubt it. Opera’s desktop browser strikes me as pushing the envelope but I was less than impressed with Mini when I give it a go on my iPod Touch. I think it would take a more competitive mobile browser, like Fennec. Mozilla saved Jobs’ the task of rejecting Mozilla’s offering by refusing on principal to port it to the iPhone, not that I blame them in the slightest.

I would like to see Flash die the incendiary death it deserves as much as the next morlock. The enemy of my enemy here, though, is not my friend. I resent Apple’s smug semi-truthful defense of its own hatred of Flash. As much as I hate the closed and controlled nature of Apple’s mobile offering, I’d respect them more if they skipped this unnecessary letter or cut it down to the quick and just admitted they loathe Flash as much as anyone else who works with technology and has to bear close and repeated witness to Adobe’s crown jewel spit up all over itself.

The Open Web and Facebook, So Long 3.5″ Floppies, Jobs Skewers Mac App Store Rumor and Schumer Sicks FTC on Social Networks

  • Why new APIs from Facebook may be good for the open web
    I am deeply skeptical but respect David Recordon’s work, the port of it with which I am familiar that also predates his move to Facebook. I appreciate the further details on the Open Graph protocol that Recordon shares at O’Reilly Radar but will reserve judgment. It remains to be seen how this spec is going to play out in the real world, just like an new open spec.
  • Last gasp of the 3.5″ floppy disk
    Chris Foreman at Ars Technica explains that Sony, one of the last companies to manufacture the ancient disks and drives will be spinning down their production of them. I honestly didn’t even know anyone was still making them although I know from first hand experience how such technologies abide in embedded and machine control systems.
  • Jobs debunks Mac app store rumor
    The Register has the authoritative response from Apple’s chief to this troubling rumor. By the time I saw this over the weekend, it had already been pretty strongly discredited. It feeds into many of the worst fears of Apple critics so easy to understand how it spread.
  • Senator Schumer to task FTC with police privacy disclosures from social networks
    Xeni at Boing Boing has the details and links to further analysis and the press release from the Senator’s office. This seems pretty well targeted to disclosures, I think a sane response. That is as opposed to the new Cyber Privacy Act which I have tagged to discuss in this week’s news cast.