Call from Its Creator to Preserve the Open Web

Scientific American has proved an unlikely champion of network neutrality recently, a trend that continues with this eloquent, impassioned plea the inventor of the worldwide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee. He starts with a brief, personal account of the first web site and browser, then outlines the concerns arising so many years later.

The Web as we know it, however, is being threatened in different ways. Some of its most successful inhabitants have begun to chip away at its principles. Large social-networking sites are walling off information posted by their users from the rest of the Web. Wireless Internet providers are being tempted to slow traffic to sites with which they have not made deals. Governments—totalitarian and democratic alike—are monitoring people’s online habits, endangering important human rights.

The full article is six pages long but well worth the read. He pulls together and clearly explains arguments others have made piecemeal, from the how openness fosters innovation to the key qualities the connected but decentralized nature of the web enables. He also clarifies a confusion many people propagate, that the web and the internet are one and the same. There is good reason, not mere pedantry, for continually making the distinction clear.

Manufacturers can improve refrigerators and printers without altering how electricity functions, and utility companies can improve the electrical network without altering how appliances function. The two layers of technology work together but can advance independently. The same is true for the Web and the Internet. The separation of layers is crucial for innovation. In 1990 the Web rolled out over the Internet without any changes to the Internet itself, as have all improvements since. And in that time, Internet connections have sped up from 300 bits per second to 300 million bits per second (Mbps) without the Web having to be redesigned to take advantage of the upgrades

His plea then expands to human rights, as they translate into online spaces. Think network neutrality and freedom from surveillance. That is an appropriate turn, I think, when he’s making arguments about openness for other reasons. One could characterize his points about innovation as also being forms of freedom, just less obvious.

Keep in mind that Berners-Lee could have made many fortunes over, arguably, by locking up his invention behind the usual intellectual monopolies. His actions around that original invention demonstrate the continued devotion to the principles animating this current plea.

Long Live the Web, Scientific American

Microsoft Caught Cheating at Browser Benchmark Test

There is no doubt that the race among the modern browsers is intense. Google offers new builds of Chrome like clockwork that routinely ratchet up the speed of their scratch built JavaScript interpreter and their improvements on the WebKit rendering engine. Mozilla has recently regained considerable ground lost to Chrome and other browsers with the latest beta of Firefox 4.

Even the latest iteration of Microsoft’s aging Internet Explore, version 9, seems to be competing well. Or is it? Slashdot linked to a Digitizor article explaining some suspicious findings uncovered by a Mozilla engineer while working with one of the standard browser benchmarks, SunSpider.

While Mozilla engineer Rob Sayre was benchmarking Firefox 4 with different browsers, he noticed something with Internet Explorer 9 – Internet Explorer 9 was around 10 times faster than the other browsers in a particular test (math-cordic) in the SunSpider benchmark. While Chrome and Opera scored took around 10ms in that test, Internet Explorer 9 finished it it in about 1ms.

There are now a couple of updates which make it less clear if there is indeed specialized code that makes IE appear faster in the benchmark than it does in real world use. The rest of the article includes clear and deep details from Sayre on his investigation and findings.

If there weren’t already good enough reasons to support any other browser other than Internet Explorer, I would offer this as a clincher. I frequently admit my extreme bias towards Mozilla because of the good they do beyond the browser itself in terms of advancing open standards. All the same, this re-affirms my own principle to use any other browser before using Microsoft’s, even the marginally more standards compatible version 9.

Internet Explorer 9 Caught Cheating In SunSpider, Slashdot

First Results from W3C’s HTML5 Test

The H was one of several sources to report on a new test for the emerging HTML5 standard from the Web’s own standards body, the W3C. The Register crafted the emphasis in their lede a bit differently, calling out the latest beta release of Microsoft’s IE 9 as topping the tests. Both sites, however, go on to clarify just how limited the W3C test suite is. The canvas tag, useful for vector based animations comparable to Flash, is about the only advanced functionality it tests out of the most interesting features of HTML5 or the additional technologies often incorrectly lumped under that label.

I have two thoughts about these test results. First is that they say more about the decreasing relevance of the W3C. This effort just doesn’t reflect the state of the art across all of the modern browsers embracing HTML5 and related technologies like CSS3. How does leaving out key features like client-side rich data storage and more robust models for using multiple processing threads in the browser say anything about the state of adoption? It certainly doesn’t help the web application developers looking for help in how best to deal with the gaps as the specs and their various implementations mature.

The other thought relates to a story on which I initially wasn’t going to comment. Several sources, including ZDNet, have made much hay out of the lack of coverage of Silverlight and the increased attention to HTML5 at Microsoft’s developer conference, PDC. ZDNet in particular spoke with Bob Muglia, president in charge of the server and tools business inside the Redmond giant. He made it pretty clear that Silverlight has not played out as hope, as an effective Flash killer–or even competitor. In praising HTML5 as the more ideal cross platform play, I think it is telling he mentions Apple’s mobile OS specifically. In another six months, given its recent uptick in adoption, I could easily see him adding Android to that remark.

Microsoft got spanked by the open web before, despite trying to crush its main commercial representative at the time, Netscape. I don’t hold out great hope that IE 9 will offer a smoother experience for web application developers than its predecessors but Microsoft’s latest attempt to re-enclose the web has is thankfully dying quietly. For the time being, Microsoft simply doesn’t have a better option than to invest engineering effort into HTML5 and other open web standards. The longer they are forced to do so, the harder any future attempts to subvert or replace those standards will be.

W3C releases first HTML5 test results, The H

Mozilla Launches Gaming Initiative

As Adrianne Jeffries at ReadWriteWeb explains the new project, Mozilla Labs Gaming, is meant to encourage developers to use the new technologies being built into modern browsers both to highlight those capabilities and capitalize in the growing interest in casual and social games. The intersection makes a great deal of interest and is a more productive notion than the usual anti-Flash sentiments offered when discussing HTML5, CSS3 and other newer standards.

“Modern Open Web technologies introduced a complete stack of technologies such as Open Video, audio, WebGL, touch events, device orientation, geo location, and fast JavaScript engines which make it possible to build complex (and not so complex) games on the Web,” Mozilla Labs wrote on its blog. “With these technologies being delivered through modern browsers today, the time is ripe for pushing the platform. And what better way than through games?”

The new efforts reinforces why Firefox is still my favorite browser despite market share gains made by Chrome. Mozilla is as dedicated to the broader space of open web standards as it is to its own particular entrants. Driving developer adoption of these technologies forces all browser makers to evolve and innovate ensuring that users get the best experience of the web regardless of what software they use.

Mozilla Hopes Web Games Will Remind Us That Browsers Are Still Awesome, 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

feeds | grep links > Open Skype SDK, New Release of Eclipse, iOS 4 Jail Broken, and More

  • Skype releases an SDK, it may be open
    Ryan Paul has the details at Ars. The beta for using the SDK is closed at the moment so I am guessing speculation about the SDK being open in some way has to do with it only being available on Linux. Nothing on the Skype site for the SDK mentions an open license. What I do find interesting, and prodded me to finally remark on this is that the SILK codec is available royalty free. I count myself among many who stick with Skype, despite it being proprietary, for the very high audio quality SILK provides.
  • New release of Eclipse IDE and associated tools
    I stopped using Eclipse a few weeks back because I was getting bogged down by its idiotic insistence on continually re-compiling my project. I suspect this is very peculiar to a large Java project using Maven, not to Eclipse itself. As Ryan Paul explains at Ars, this latest, on-time release developers more tools, for more languages and targets, increasing Eclipse’s scope as well as its features.
  • Mozilla committed to web standards over native code
    This Register piece actually ranges over much of the plans for the forthcoming releases of Firefox’s browser, not just the rational for not embracing native code and plugins the way Google has with Chrome. This is one of the reasons I am still a devoted Firefox user, despite claims it is bloaty or that it is being out innovated by Chrome. Mozilla strives harder to make a contribution of greater value to everyone on the web, not just their own browser, users or services.
  • iOS 4 jail broken
    Sarah Perez has the details at RWW. The break works in 3G phones and 2nd generation Touches. It will be interesting to see if this helps prove out the rumor that over-the-air updates in iOS 4 are designed to detected and disable service on jail broken devices. I am also interested in seeing how fast the mod community can mow down the new hardware, the iPhone 4. I don’t expect it to take long, once hackers can actually lay hands on the devices.
  • More research into implications of stronger copyright on digital content
  • More ideas, details on Google’s dedication to speeding up the web
  • Twitter gets warning, settles with FTC over last year’s data breaches
  • Latest IE9 preview makes strides in performance, comaptibility

Considering Apple’s Motives for Safari 5’s Reader

Eliot van Buskirk at Wired suggests an interesting theory about Apple’s motivations introducing a feature in Safari 5 that eases the experience of reading on the web.  van Buskirk is one of a few questioning a less obvious ulterior motivate for the inclusion of the new Reader feature, based on the Readability project.  I wrote yesterday about Apple’s contemptibly weak attribution of this open source project.  The project’s goal is simply helping readers overcome questionable design choices for longer form content.  The Readability code and Safari’s Reader feature based on it eliminate all the distractions around an articles main text, which incidentally includes blocking ads.

It is this ad blocking aspect that has van Buskirk thinking that Apple has deployed it as much for easing eye strain as for gently nudging publishers into their App Store.  As he explains, Reader will block ads on the general web at the same time Apple is pushing advertising for custom applications on its mobile platform.  There is no mechanism for blocking ads on the iPhone and iPad so the implicit choice for content providers should be clear.

Ken Fisher at Ars Technica shares van Buskirk’s concerns but allows for an alternate interpretation.  Publishers who improve the reader experience around their content, with or without ads, will decrease the likelihood of a reader switching to an ad suppressing mode.  I think that is creditable and certainly resonates with defenses of existing, explicit ad blockers–make the content less distracting and more compelling then we’ll more willingly reward it with our attention, ads and all.

Fisher also explores how this move makes Apple’s claims about supporting an open and standards based web a bit harder to swallow.  Granted, Jobs has focused more on applications when cheering on HTML5, usually as an alternative for developers fed up with Apple’s draconian developer license.  My understanding is that neither Reader nor Readability will interfere with such web apps.  I will admit that Reader, along with the recent kerfuffle over Apple’s standards demo, does send an increasingly mixed signal about where they stand with regards to standards and coopetition with the other modern browsers.

YouTube Officially Testing HTML5 Video

According to ReadWriteWeb, though, they are only supporting h.264 encoded video. If you use Firefox, you are out of luck. I tried to find a hack, a way on my Mac anyway to get Firefox to work with this h.264 based beta test to no avail. I find that surprising and suspect it has more to do with YouTube than Firefox.

As excited as I would be at Google’s move to support an open standard, I am skeptical since this doesn’t include video in third party sites. Technically, that makes sense. All of the embed codes to date have used the necessary markup to drive the Flash player. There isn’t any effective way to retrofit those to use HTML5 and even going forward, HTML5 just isn’t widely supported enough for it to make sense for YouTube to use it in its embed codes just yet.

On the whole, I’ll still choose to interpret this as a good step forward for open video. Maybe with Google’s recent acquisition of On2, the future of open video as part of HTML5 adoption still has some fight left in it.

Microsoft Joins SVG Working Group

More exciting would be concessions from the Redmond giant on audio and video tags in the HTML5 spec. According to The Register, there may be cause for cautious optimism. Thankfully, before I could skewer them for the initial positive gush, they tamped this love fest down to a more realistic level.

But there’s many a slip between participation and implementation, and commenters are right to temper their enthusiasm and not assume simply joining the working group will mean support for SVG in IE. There have been complaints of Microsoft joining industry technology working groups in years past without it actually actively participating.

An accurate dash of cold water.

Broader support for SVG, a specification for vector graphics, could enable faster innovation and improvements in all the modern browsers that might eventually lead to reducing if not eliminating the web’s dependence on the proprietary Flash. I don’t think the sorts of animations made possible by the open standard are the most important battle though. The cynic in me says that by comparison to video, this is almost a non-concession from Microsoft.

Google Moving from Gears to HTML5

I have admitted to being mystified by some of Google’s recent releases with regards to existing projects, especially open source and open standards. According to ReadWriteWeb, the search giant appears to be making the right move with regards to its browser plugin, Gears.

As the article explains, much of what Gears initially provided is now part of or being consider for inclusion in the HTML5 specification. I believe that the mobile interface to Gmail on the iPhone and iPod Touch has been using HTML5’s local storage for some time, though that particular choice may have had more to do with Apple’s tight control of its mobile platform.

Jolie O’Dell also mentions what may be a coincidence, that Gears was broken by Apple’s Snow Leopard, a fact that may or may not have contributed to Google’s decision. I prefer to think that it is for more positive reasons, embracing open web standards, and the timing is just coincidental.