June 30, 2004
on browsers, security, standards and CDs
A few weeks ago, I wrote what many saw as a despairing and despaired look at web browsers and standards based innovation, concluding something had to break the Internet Explorer hegemony, and speculating wildly on what it might possibly be.
I overlooked (as much as anything because it wasn't really the subject of the article) the obvious issue of security. but it look like IE and security has suddenly become a very hot topic.
The BBC (hardly Slashdot for those who want to suggest that this is all MS bashing) is reporting that CERT the Computer Emergency Reponse Center (a federally funded research and development center operated by Carnegie Mellon University) is recommending
use a browser other then MS Internet Explorer until the current vulnerabilities in MSIE are patched
Which is an extraordinarily strong recommendation.
And today we find a piece by columnist Stephen H. Wildstrom of that well known bastion of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) business week (by the way they aren't a bastion of FOSS) titled "Internet Explorer Is Just Too Risky" which includes the observation
Until Microsoft proves it can fix IE's security bugs, you're better off using one of a few good alternatives as much as possible.
Similarly eWeek is reporting "Internet Explorer Is Too Dangerous to Keep Using". This is a Senior Editor, not just some crack like me speaking, by the way.
This meme is doubtlessly spreading. It will be interesting to track it into the mainstream media.
At the very least, I suspect we will be seeing upgrades of IE6 that aren't only available as part of XP service packs.
There is a general perception that almost everyone uses IE. Even web developers would probably guess that the percentage of IE based web users is well above 90%. That simply isn't the case. The issue of web metrics is complex, exact numbers are impossible to come by, and any conclusion is open to al kinds of analysis and criticism. But sites like Safalra's put all versions of IE at about 75%, and Mozilla based, Safari and Opera collectively at close to 25%.
What's interesting is if you go back 6 months or so. In November 2003, the numbers were roughly 82% all IE versus 17% for the others.
So in that time IE has dropped nearly 10% of its market size, Gecko based browsers have increased their share by over 40% (from 14% to 1 in 5 of all browsers) and Safari has more than tripled (from 1.1% to 3.5%).
Opera's real growth will no doubt come with the rise of handheld and particularly mobile phone based browsers.
The point? The days where you could code for IE and claim to be developing for the web are already over.
The lesson? Code for the web, and none of this is even an issue. Just as it should be.
Look, do music companies need to worry about different producing CDs for Sony, Panasonic and other CD manufacturers? Nope, there is a standard. Similarly for DVDs, broadcast radio and television, and cinema. Why should the web be any different?
All web developers want is to be able to code to a single standard.
June 29, 2004
A reader (thanks Joe) sent me a link to this site as an example of outstandingly ironically bad accessibility, standards support, and so on.
(If you are using Internet Explorer, you won't get the point of the link.)
When using IE for the Mac, I learn from this fine organization that
"XBRL is a language for the electronic communication of business and financial data which is set to revolutionise business reporting around the world."
Presumably by not allowing anyone to actually access it.
In this case the revolution is quite literally not being televised.
Got any other particularly ironic or egregiously bad examples? Send 'em along.
June 28, 2004
Web Essentials Early Bird registration closes this Thursday, July 1
The response to Web Essentials so far has been extraordinary.
We have people coming from all over Australia, New Zealand, and as far away as Japan.
If you are keen, our early bird special, of $100 off the regular price of $750, closes this Thursday.
To take advantage of this offer, simply sign up at https://www.we04.com/ by midnight Thursday
Remember June 30 and your training budgets too.
Keep in mind too, if you are in Sydney, our free Executive Briefing on Thursday night.
Have a drink, a bite, and hear Roger Hudson, John Allsopp, Russ Weakley, and members from the SMH/Age online development team talk about business and management issues in accessibility and standards based development.
Hope to see you there. I'll be the really stressed out looking guy. Actually, there might be a few of us :-)
June 24, 2004
5 questions to ask your web development team
With IT spending finally forecast to grow strongly after several difficult years, many companies and organisations will be looking to invest in their web presence and services, after a period of neglect. If you are one of the decision makers, you will do well to make your decisions about your upgraded or new web site with the same kind of caution and thought as if you were buying a new car.
We all recognize that buying a car is a significant, long term investment. The costs don't simply stop once the purchase has been made. A poor decision can have long term repercussions.
When we purchase a car most of us aren't aware of the underlying technical issues. Double overhead camshafts, limited slip differential, inline 6 cylinder engine all mean little to most purchasers. But there are always a number of key issues to address. What's the mileage? How long is the warranty? How safe is it in an accident? How does the resale value hold up? Is there a new model due?
June 23, 2004
Free Web standards business and management briefing
Free Web standards business and management briefing
Usually when talking about web standards I focus on technical issues. However probably more important than these are the business and management issues associated with using standards.
Next week, on July 1 Web Essentials will be presenting a free briefing focussing on the issues that affect executives, managers and other web "decision makers" and how web standards impact on them.
- How upgradable is your site? Will it allow you to quickly adapt to changing needs?
- How much bandwidth is your site wasting?
- Does your website expose you to the risk of legal action?
- How visible is your site to Search Engines such as Google?
- Who are you excluding from your site and how?
I'll be speaking, along with Roger Hudson, accessibility expert, and these two short but informative presentations will be followed by a panel discussion with Russ Weakley, of ListTutorial fame, as well as Peter Ottery and Brett Jackson from SMH Online, who have recently redesigned this leading Australian media site using xhtml and css.
We're throwing in some drinks and the odd bite to eat to make the evening even more enticing, and if that is not enough encouragement, we'll even have some door prizes, including a ticket to Web Essentials, valued at $750, three copies of Style Master, and 20 of our "web standards starter kit" CDs, with all kinds of software and information to get you started.
If you are a developer, bring your boss, or your clients and let us make them think going with web standards was their idea :-)
If you are responsible for a web presence come and get some great real world advice and have your accessibility and web standards questions answered.
For more info, or to RSVP (please do, so we can cater for everyone who turns up), got to https://we04.com/briefing.cfm
Big thanks to Red Square for the venue.
See you there,
June 21, 2004
On traction, tornados and the chasm
Slashdot today reports suggestions that Microsoft may be reconstituting its IE team
Which is interesting on a couple of fronts
1. it is a tacit admission that MS, after winning the browser war over Netscape, simply abandoned further IE development, even with significant work to be done supporting core web standards such as XHTML 1 and CSS 2 (or even 2.1, which is a much reduced subset of CSS 2)
2. It suggests that MS may have some concerns about the inroads that browsers such as Mozilla/Firefox might be making.
How concerned should they be?
While westciv's audience is far from typical, in the last 3 months our stat's show non IE browsers visiting rising from around 5% to over 25%. Given many are probably spoofing IE headers, I'd go out on a limb and suggest as many as a third of our visitors use non IE browsers (even though a significant majority use Windows)
For those familiar with Geoffrey Moore's "Crossing the chasm" thesis, I'd suggest adoption of standards based browsing is "in the tornado", before the chasm that divides visionaries from pragmatists.
Standards based development is probably at this stage too.
It remains to be seen whether both can "cross the chasm".
June 16, 2004
Westciv site revamp
westciv has had a site redesign in the works for some time now. Yesterday, after a lot of hard work, Maxine's masterpiece was launched.
The design is xhtml 1.1 strict and CSS. A lot of effort has gone into making it as WAI WCAG compliant as possible (I'm sure Maxine will have a post at her blog shortly letting you know about that process, as well as the design process overall).
We eat our own dogfood here at westciv. We use Style master for all our web jobs, and then we fix the things that annoy us, and add the features that would make life easier.
We practice what we preach too. I think that Image replacement techniques like the FIR are inaccessible and not in the spirit of web standards, so we don't use them. Which is why, too, we went for xhtml 1.1 strict, because you can hardly espouse web standards and best practice on the one hand, and then not use them on the other. This is why I am so hard on those who talk the talk of web standards but then go back to the bad old ways when it gets too hard. You can't cherry pick.
Yes, their are some validation problems. There are thousands of pages at westciv.com, some dating back several years, so fixing them all will take a little time. But to keep ourselves honest you'll find a link to the W3C HTML and CSS validators on each page, so you can validate those pages.
As sites like wired, blogger and The Sydney Morning Herald show, this can be done. Westciv has been doing this web thing for a while. Let me tell you, although this is without the most significant overhaul of the site ever, it was not the most work. The beauty of web standards and best practices in action.
Stay tuned for Maxine's epic on the scale of Beowoulf as she recounts her epic journey.
June 11, 2004
Catching web standards
Last night I went to a fantastic Web Standards Group meeting, where Peter Ottery discussed the Sydney Morning Herald's transition to XHTML and CSS (this is the number one media site in Australia with over 4 million unique visitor each month. Goes to show that this stuff works in the real world.). I came home to find my girlfriend (she doesn't like the term "partner"), who has been doing some very cool web related stuff, had written a lovely little tale.
So, for a change from my usual rants, read on.
I am not the usual sort of person who writes about web standards. I'm the kind of girl who'd rather write about a royal wedding. I'd rather write about my kitty. Until recently I was part of what might have been kindly termed the Clueless Majority. However, here I am to tell those of you who do not think it can happen, that it is possible to get a Luddite interested in web standards and have that affect their commercial decisions.
I am John Allsopp's girlfriend. To let you know how far I've come, this was about my level of knowledge when John and I started going out a couple of years ago:
In one of our first conversations I described myself to him as doing 'on-line stuff' for one of my firm's websites. This meant I cut and pasted text into our CMS. Not that I knew it was called a CMS, or if I had, what CMS stood for. I probably called it the web page thingy.
I had in my armoury an array of at least four HTML elements that I could use to jazz up our web pages. I could add a link, use <b> and <i>, and I knew what a <p> was.
When I started going out with John and was describing him to my friends who had not yet met him, I would vaguely refer to him as an 'internet billionaire'. I would then say something like "Have you heard of Cascading Spread (sic) Sheets? Yeah, Style Sheets, that's it! Well, he makes software which is something to do with that." For a while back there I actually thought John had invented CSS. Which, while I had no idea what it was, I knew would have been way cool.
Now, for all my many failings I am actually a pretty fast learner. So in the two years that we've been together I've managed to progress somewhat from my Clueless Majority beginnings.
A lot of my knowledge comes from being what I'll describe as a Developer's Widow. I'm sure there's a support group for us spouses of web developers out there - I must find out when they meet. We developers widows come home from our 9-5 jobs every day to find our partners tapping away at their computers, eager to show us the latest cool thing that their application can do, describing the political ins and outs of the blogosphere, ranting about the trolls on their mailing lists. We try to drag them out to buy groceries but before they go they simply must check their email for the 800 millionth time just in case something's happened. They marvel at those of us foolish enough to participate in the rat race. They ask what the weather was like outside. They are excited (though sometimes feel slightly confronted) to have a real person to talk to after a day in cyberspace.
In my post-work discussions with John I've managed to learn quite a lot. At first I just learned the buzz words so that I'd have some ability to comprehend what John was talking about. Otherwise John would have been to me as the teacher was to Charlie Brown in Peanuts "W3C blah blah blah, tables blah blah validation blah blah. Blah blah. I am not a zealot!"
For something to do in my spare time I did John's courses, which I have to say, were excellent. I started tooling around making my first website. I validated my code.
And something funny happened. I started to care about web standards. I realised that even though I am not some screen reader employing totally blind person, web standards affect me. I have a mixed astigmatism and my glasses are too dirty for me to wear at the moment. So when my favourite chicks websites set text in pixels instead of ems and I can't make it bigger it really bugs me. Lack of adherence to web standards is going to give me crows feet from squinting! This is bad.
I like to refer to my conversion as sexually transmitted web standards. Slightly more fun than the clap, but just as contagious.
Anyway, in my newfound enthusiasm, I managed to turn my boss, who knows even less than I did in the beginning, over to the idea of web standards. And - unlike John with me - I didn't even have to sleep with him. Here's how it happened.
As a bit of background I will say that I work for a firm that employs around 4,000 people. We have a huge website and most of the web development is done in-house. We are currently developing a new website specifically for our department. The developer I was working with initially built our site using tables, and when I pointed out that company policy was to use CSS, she got, shall we say, a little huffy. I knew I had to get my boss on side to influence her to do it over.
So I went in to him. "Boss", I said "you are not going to understand much of what I am about to say but you need to know that it's important and I will try to explain it to you as best I can."
He looked mildly alarmed.
I went on. "Imagine that you wanted me to send out a document on your behalf, and we have a lovely word processor there to use, but I created the document on a manual typewriter instead because I didn't know how to use the typewriter." He nodded. At this point I dropped the analogy "Well that's kind of what happened with our website. Someone who doesn't know how to use the new technology, CSS, has done it the old way, with tables. Now, it matters because people looking at our website on anything other than a computer - like on their mobile phone or a pda are going to have trouble understanding it."
I had him at pda. "No, that's no good!" he said "a lot of our audience will be on the road, they've got to be able to access it from anywhere."
"Not only that, but doing it with tables is going to cost us more money in bandwidth." At this point I launched into an elaborate explanation of bandwidth, which I will leave out of this narrative other than to say it involved complicated comparisons to crowded doorways, some Marcel Marceau impersonations, and left my boss blinking.
"AND" I moved in for the kill, "it's actually illegal in Australia to have this kind of website because we are discriminating against visually impaired people. People have been sued for this kind of stuff." Back came the expression of mild alarm. "PLUS" I drove it home, "if we want to make changes to the look of the site down the track we'll probably have to completely re-do the site, rather than simply being able to make a few simple cosmetic changes."
I paused for breath.
"So," Boss said, "this CSS. It costs more?"
"Well, only in that the developer may not know how to use the technology, and will have to be trained, so it may take her longer."
"Right. So you're saying if we use tables it's more expensive, potentially discriminatory and won't get to much of our audience. But it might take a little longer to do it with CSS. Is that right?" I nodded. "Well, I want the CSS! She's got to do it again!"
It was that simple. And you know what? The developer who huffed and puffed later confessed that she loved re-doing the site with CSS - saying it was so easy to work with. It took her a day to re-do it. My boss thinks he's a web guru. I feel smug. It was upside all-round.
Web standards are not only sexually transmitted. But if you believe in web standards and you're single, go on and talk about them to a cute member of the Clueless Majority. You may well have a convert, and you never know, you may just get lucky in the process.
June 09, 2004
Dave Hyatt at Surfin' Safari reports that, as one or two others have commented, iTunes does not use WebKit for rendering the iTunes Music Store iTMS.
Which is somewhat disappointing, but does not substantially affect the basic argument of my earlier article.
Safari is based on, and Apple contributes to, the open source KHTML rendering engine, KHTML is at least doable on Windows, so Safari could feasibly be made available for Windows.
And just speaking out of my hat, go on Apple, do it. You have several years before the next version of IE is released, and according to Microsoft, the next version of IE will never be available for today's Windows computers. Get that Apple logo on millions of Windows desktops, and importantly, keep web innovation alive.
You know you want to ;-)
June 08, 2004
Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death by suicide of Alan Turing.
Turing is without question one of the few genuine geniuses of human history, who almost single handedly devised both the theoretical and practical foundations for digital computing.
Largely unknown outside mathematical and computer science circles (for what it is worth, I have a degree in both, but almost feel ashamed of mentioning that while writing about Turing) Turing was instrumental in breaking the Japanese and German codes during the second world war, without which it is quire possible the result of the war would have been very different.
Turing also features as a "factional" character in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, well worth reading.
Alan Turing was gay. Denied a role in the post war intelligence world because of his sexuality, he was arrested in 1952 for having a sexual encounter with a man, and received forced treatment of estrogen to curb his libido, in order to "cure" him of his sexuality.
His suicide is attributed to this treatment.
How times change eh? In the US, Australia and elsewhere, sexuality is still a cause of state sanctioned discrimination (the Australian Federal Parliament is currently racing a bill through to redefine marriage to the exclusion of same sex relationships) and young gay males have a much higher suicide rate than the average for their age groups.
50 years is a long time, and yet something of Turing's story still deeply saddens me. May one day it not be retold in the present.