%HTMLlat1; %HTMLsymbol; %HTMLspecial; ]> Reality distorted open standards
Roland van Ipen­burg
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Real­i­ty dis­tort­ed open stan­dards

Tues­day 9 Fe­bru­ary 2010 16:10

While I agree when ppk says the iPhone is an ob­ses­sion, I be­lieve the iPhone isn't the root of the prob­lem.

What is go­ing on here is only slight­ly re­lat­ed to the iPhone and the mo­bile web. The big pic­ture is that in the last decade web de­vel­op­ers have got­ten used to be­ing able to more or less eas­i­ly in­stall a pret­ty com­plete col­lec­tion of desk­top browsers to test and de­bug the code they cre­ate. Most of these browsers are open source, cost no or only a small amount of mon­ey to ob­tain and by us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of OS X and vir­tu­al ma­chines you can get away with all that with­out an in­vest­ment in ex­tra hard­ware. All the hard­ware an av­er­age web de­vel­op­er needs is a sin­gle Mac.

As soon as the use of the web moves away from the desk­top it is no longer pos­si­ble to get away with a sin­gle Mac. Game con­soles have browsers, but are web de­vel­op­ers go­ing to start buy­ing sets of XboXes, PlayS­ta­tion 3's and Wii's just to test their code in them? And when tele­vi­sion sets and cars are equipped with browsers, are they go­ing to buy those to test their code in them? No, be­cause they re­al­ize what they do for free with soft­ware sud­den­ly gets very ex­pen­sive when hard­ware is in­volved. Most web de­vel­op­ers won't spend se­ri­ous mon­ey on hard­ware for test­ing pur­pos­es, so the only hard­ware they have avail­able for test­ing be­yond the desk­top browsers is what they have al­ready around, which in most cas­es is their iPhone.

But wasn't HTML in­tend­ed to al­low au­thors to just cre­ate a page that should be us­able on a va­ri­ety of plat­forms with­out hav­ing to wor­ry about the dif­fer­ences be­tween those plat­forms? Yes, but the con­fi­dence that HTML code could be eas­i­ly test­ed in al­most every desk­top brows­er has turned the web de­vel­op­ing bl­o­gos­phere into a demo-scene. That demo-scene web de­vel­op­ment isn't about build­ing a rock sol­id site that tries to do what HTML in­tend­ed, it's about push­ing a small set of browsers to their lim­its to try to achieve some­thing oth­ers can't, in a way that is more like abus­ing HTML than ac­tu­al­ly us­ing it. It's abus­ing the HTML val­ida­tor to claim a dirty hack isn't dirty be­cause it val­i­dates. That be­hav­ior turns every web­site into some kind of acid test that is bound to break in every brows­er the web de­vel­op­er didn't both­er to "op­ti­mize" for. That ap­proach works fine un­til the lim­it­ed set of browsers starts to dif­fer sig­nif­i­cant­ly from what browsers are ac­tu­al­ly used in the real world.

Now that al­ter­na­tive plat­forms have emerged and get pop­u­lar the demo-scene web de­vel­op­ers have to ad­mit they don't have the skills to de­liv­er what HTML promised. They are spe­cial­ized desk­top web de­vel­op­ers who are about as use­less for se­ri­ous mo­bile web de­vel­op­ment as graph­ic de­sign­ers spe­cial­ized in print. The print de­sign­er aims for the per­fect proof, and the desk­top web de­vel­op­er aims for the per­fect screen­shot. Think­ing in a more ab­stract way about how markup be­haves in dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ments doesn't seem to be part of the skillset of the desk­top web de­vel­op­er. And any­one lack­ing that skill will love to just cre­ate shiny stuff for the to­tal­ly pre­dictable en­vi­ron­ments of the iPhone and iPad and not re­al­ize what the full po­ten­tial of the web was all about.


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