September 29, 2004
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Web Essentials is just about upon us. The last couple of days I've picked up Dave Shea, and his charming wife April, Joe Clark and Doug Bowman from the airport, and got them settled in Sydney, while we have all been putting the finishing touches on Web Essentials '04, the web standards and accessibility conference which starts tomorrow.
We have well over 200 people coming from literally all over the world, and it looks like it is going to be a fantastic show.
Stay tuned to the Web Essentials blog for updates, photos, news and gossip, and if you can't make it this year (you can still sign up here) then make sure you keep an eye out for WE'05 coming next year, and may be not just in Australia.
See you on the other side,
September 24, 2004
Cricket Australia website
I love cricket. That's something you will probably find it hard to fathom unless you grew up watching the game. In Australia, during winter three sports with largely independent fan bases compete for attention. Rugby League, Rugby Union and Australian Rules Football. Plus more kids play soccer than any of these sports.
In summer though, cricket is the national sport come obsession.
But this post is not about cricket, its about Cricket Australia's web site (CA is the governing body for cricket in this country).
Here is a little test. Go and find CA's web site.
OK, I bet you had a lot of trouble finding it. I actually gave up in frustration (someone gave me a link).
Here it is
So how can such an important cricket site, with such a good URL, and surely many links from other cricket sites essentially be invisible to Google (and so to you)?
Take a look at the source code.
From a title of "Home" to the ridiculous use of tables for layout, to the hugely code heavy page, and the absolute and utter lack of any semantic markup - the headings are in fact things like this
<span class="headLink1">, I have never in my life seen a better example of the value of correctly coded pages in my life.
You can't really blame the clients, after all their core business is not in developing web sites. Blame the developer. And in this case I am happy to. They take pride in their absolutely dismal efforts. The reason I am happy outing these people is that they are a huge consulting company, they must charge an almost unimaginable amount of money for this rubbish. They should be ashamed of themselves. Instead, they trumpet
as a wholly owned subsidiary of [name removed to protect the guilty, you can find it on the site], we have access to a global network of knowledge and expertise - ensuring that as always, we are ever-evolving and ever-improving
Thank heavens for that, cause they need a fair bit of improving, and need to evolve beyond the amoeba stage. I won't speculate what "knowledge and expertise" they have, but it sure doesn't have much to do with web development.
BTW, CA, if you are listening, I love cricket. I am happy to come over and give you a 1 hour spray about just why and how your site is so bad at present for nothing. But if you can get Steve Waugh to sign my red hankie I got at the Sydney Test a couple of years back, that would do nicely.
September 23, 2004
A week to go
Only a week to go to Web Essentials '04, and it is shaping up as better than we could have imagined.
A few weeks ago Russ, Peter Maxine and I ran a bit of a private sweep to see who could guess closest to the number of people coming. I am the natural optimist in the group, and right now, I am the only one who has over estimated. We have nearly 200 people coming, and by next week, it will be well in excess of 200 (then I'll win the sweep).
As mentioned previously we have people coming from all over Australia (and it is a big place if you aren't from here) as well as New Zealand, Japan, and even the UK, as well as speakers from the US and Canada.
Last week Auscap, the Australian Caption Centre came on board, and will be captioning just about every session.
The program has been completed, and the content too looks better than we could have hoped for.
Even the conference bags look hot, they were delivered yesterday. They'll be the must have web developers laptop bag for 2005.
So if you are still thinking about it, I give you my personal word, you won't be disappointed. And if you don't come, I reckon you might just be pretty disappointed.
See you there,
September 22, 2004
of Google and browsers
On May 19 I published Plus Ca Change, some thoughts on the past present and future of web browsing, and web standards.
In it I made one predication which I will now recant, one observation which was wrong and I have already recanted, and one plea/conjecture that it is now being reported by such eminent new organizations as the New York Post as a possibility. I'll claim that one if it comes off. Call me George Gilder. Actually, don't call me, George Gilder and Don't call me "George Gilder".
1. My prediction was that Mozilla based browsers would never reignite the browser wars. Wrong.
The wonderful Firefox is not only light, fast, fresh, and standards based, but introduces and refines new ways of working with the web, from automatic RSS detection and simple subscription, to tabbed browsing, popup blocking, and considerably better security than even the IE 6 released in XP SP2. Sure they didn't invent all of this, but they are bringing it to you thick and fast.
I suggested being a better mousetrap was not going to be enough. Seems like being better in itself may be enough.
Developer sites, like westciv (yes, we have a specialized audience, more likely to be early adopters, but early adopters lead the way for tomorrows users, both figuratively, and literally as they are the people who spread the word about good new stuff) show a significant increase in Mozilla based browser traffic (and KHTML based traffic, most likely Safari). This almost entirely at the expense of Internet Explorer.
In our case, IE traffic (all versions all platforms) has dropped from well over 80% less than a year ago, to just under 50%, with Mozilla based browsers over 30%
More mainstream sites report a significant if not as dramatic fall in IE use and rise in Mozilla and other browsers.
My observation that iTunes is based on Safari (and so Safari on Windows would be easy enough to do) was wrong, as Dave Hyatt pointed out some time ago. Can't blame a guy for trying. I just wish it were. Sadly, Dave observes that Safari for Windows would be non trivial.
None for 2.
But the one that is doing the rounds that I conjectured about is a Google branded browser. Now, in fairness, Anil Dash, of 6Apart fame also made the observation about a year earlier, but I didn't know about that 'til afterwards, OK! Then again, about 4 trillion times as many people read Anil's blog than read mine, no doubt, and so he'll get all the credit :-)
But seriously, the New York Post yesterday published the speculation that Google may be building a browser (doubtless based on one of the fine open source browsers available.) Based in part I think on Jason Kottke's investigative work.
Slashdot, Macslash, The Buzz, the Register, and all the usual suspects have picked it up and run with it.
The story doesn't really have much meat, and I have no doubt that Google has many little projects going on. A place full of very smart people with loads of enthusiasm, a fair bit of money, and a free reign tends to get all sorts of crazy stuff happening.
What is interesting is the widespread interest, in the blogosphere, the geeksphere, the more mainstream tech press, and the very mainstream press (the New york Post).
People want this to be true.
But Is it?
What would a google browser be?
What would a Google Browser look like and do? Google hasn't succeeded because of branding, the brand has succeeded because of its underlying services. Google searching "just works".
While the technically literate use google, so too does just about everyone else these days.
A google browser (not one branded Google, but one that embodied the spirit of google) would make using the web "just work".
managing RSS (etc.) feeds
finding stuff related to what you are looking at now
and a whole heap of things most of us haven't thought yet.
Safari is a great browser, Opera is a great browser, Firefox is a great browser, but in essence, using them is not fundamentally different from using Netscape 1 or 2.
Google changed searching almost overnight. Google added almost unimaginable value to the web by making it much more manageable. It was a revolution, but on so subtle, it looked like they had just built a better mousetrap.
A google browser could be similarly revolutionary.
Interested in your thoughts on what a google browser might be.
September 17, 2004
Best CSS ever
I love the stuff at the zen garden. I love what many designers do with CSS. It's beautiful, inspiring, wonderful stuff.
But I started life in science, have a degree in mathematics, and something I saw yesterday is perhaps the best thing I have ever seen using CSS.
George Chavchanidze a mathematician and theoretical physicist in Georgia (the country, not the state of the US) has a remarkable demonstration of some extremely sophisticated scientific typography.
Why I particularly like this is, on top of being a science and typography geek, is that it demonstrates the "deepness" of CSS. George has got from CSS a subtle power that I don't think anyone working on the original specification could have imagined it was going to be used for (I might be wrong of course).
The mark of really sophisticated technology, in my book at any rate, is that it enables things that no one envisaged. CSS is definitely such a technology.
Well done George, this, as much as any other demonstration of CSS, may spread its use to a much wider base.
September 12, 2004
Web Essentials cleared for take off. Cabin crew arm doors and cross check
Just on a year ago, for reasons already shrouded in the mists of [internet] time, I ran a number of workshops in Sydney and Melbourne based on westciv's popular self paced courses in CSS and HTML. In fairness, Stuart Murdoch, down in Melbourne got one organised down there, and it sort of went from there.
We ran the first in Melbourne in October last year, followed by three in Sydney in November and December. I got the sense that there was some seriously pent up interest in web standards development out there in Australia.
Two of those who attended were Russ Weakley and Peter Ferminger. Through the Web Standards Group (which given had been involved with WaSP and web standards one way or another since about 1998 I had ironically never heard of) a Sydney based, world wide standards advocacy and "self help" group, Russ and Peter had helped promote the workshops.
In December I spoke on The past present and future of web standards at the WSG's end of year meeting. The presentation formed the basis of my relatively recent article on the future of web standards that ended up being slashdotted, run at the Sydney Morning Herald online and generating a lot of noise all over the place.
After that meeting, Russ, Peter and I, all of whom suffer from an excess of optimism and enthusiasm from time to time, talked about the possibility of a web standards conference in Sydney, and by early January it was a done deal. Somehow even Maxine, who suffers from an excess of common sense thought it was an OK idea.
Early on, we felt that to really get people interested some headline speakers from overseas would be needed. Surprisingly, the people we approached seemed very interested right from the get go. Jeffrey Zeldman almost made it, but the timing of his and his wife's first child almost to the minute of our conference meant that sadly was not possible. Never fear, you never know what next year holds.
Doug Bowman, Joe Clark and Dave Shea all jumped at the chance. We felt their mixture of youth, experience, and current "IT" status would make for a great conference.
Australia is a funny old country. One the one hand we punch well above our weight in many fields (not only sport, where Australia came away with more Gold medals than any country other than the US, Russia and China, and with a broader spread of medals than any country, equal to the US, but in science and technology, the arts, and many other fields.) On the other hand, our "cultural cringe", a term used in Australia to describe our sense of inferiority in many fields means that we often feel that if something is from "overseas" it is better. As a consequence, we tend to overlook just how much of a player Australia is in the wider world.
In terms of web standards, Russ Weakley [speaking at the conference] contributes to all manner of blogs and online forums, and his ListTutorial, SelectTutorial, and other online resources at MaxDesign are recognized world wide.
The Web Standards Group has members all over the world, and frequent, well attended meetings (up to 50 attendees) in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
Westciv surely is one of the most committed companies going around when it comes to web standards training and software (if I do say so myself). On top of our software, courses, tutorials, guides, articles, and compatibility info, Maxine and I have written hundreds of thousands of words in print and online on web standards and development.
The Australian Disabilities Discrimination act, makes it unlawful for a person who provides goods, facilities or services to discriminate on the grounds of disability and applies to both the terms and conditions and the manner of provision. So you must by law in Australia provide access to all the services of your site to people regardless of disability. You can't just say (as one recent major bank's representative said to me recently) "no one is going to sue us, and besides, blind people can just phone us." No dice guys. The DDA is no toothless tiger, already the basis for a successful action by Bruce Maguire (speaking at the conference) against SOCOG (the Sydney Olympics organizing committee.)
By the way, do a google search for SOCOG. Note that the first hits are actually about this legal action.
Australia is "chock a block" full of designers, like Cameron Adams [aka "the man in blue"] and Design companies like Webboy and GlassOnion who develop great standards based sites.
Australia's own Dean Jackson [also speaking at the conference] is the editor of the W3C's SVG recommendations and chair of the Web Applications workshop.
Now Maxine, Russ, Peter and I hope to help cement Australia's place at the forefront of standards based development, by putting on the best web development conference ever, and raise the bar for future conferences where ever they may be held.
We are quite literally astounded with the interest shown. This is a big country (flying from Perth to Sydney for instance takes about 5 hours) and yet we have people coming from every State and Territory of Australia, as well as New Zealand and even as far as Japan.
If you are anywhere near Sydney, and miss this, you will kick yourself. We are aiming for a show people will be talking about for years to come.
Do yourself a favour, and signup. You won't regret it. But you may just regret not coming.
September 11, 2004
Just how far will some developers go?
Some months ago I wrote a number of pieces on software piracy.
In this post
I tried to outline why people shouldn't, for their own safety, use cracked software.
Now, I read that one software developer has gone so far as to erase your hard disk if you use a cracked version of their software.
[to be very clear, it is not unsanity, they are just reporting it].
This is a really really stupid thing to do for many of reasons, but does perhaps illustrate the level of frustration that developers feel at people misusing their software. Apparently the developer removed this feature very quickly.
Maxine and I at westciv have put ten years into developing our business, our software and other products.
For at least 6 of those we lived well below the poverty line, working part time, sacrificing enormously to get to where we are.
You can perhaps see why a small developer would get so furious as to do something so stupid as this.
When you baulk at paying $10, $20, $30, $50 or even $100 (maybe at most half a day's pay, often less than an hour's) keep in mind that the developer has spent months if not years of their time on that application.
If you don't feel its worth paying for that effort, then don't use the software. But if you do feel it is worthwhile then just pay for it eh?
In the meantime, we give real thanks to the many who do purchase our software. Thanks you again for your support.
September 07, 2004
Style Master is 6
This time 6 years ago we released the first version of Style Master into the world. Birthdays are of course a time for celebration but also a time to reflect on where you are, where you came from and how you got there. So here is a brief history of Style Master, westciv and some musings about the software world from then until now. I hope you enjoy.
In the beginning, sort of
A little over decade ago, Maxine and I started westciv, with the aim of developing a powerful, easy to use hypertext knowledge management tool. It was an idea which had been growing for well over a year, and in my mind dates back to my days some years earlier as a law student, when I used to wonder how best to manage the enormous amount of reading and information one should process during a law degree.
[I never finished my law degree, after a science degree majoring in Mathematics and Computer Science, and 5 years at University, a wider world beckoned. It's a decision I have never for one moment regretted.]
Our work from 1994 to 1996 produced "Palimpsest" [you can still download it here], which gained a fair degree of critical acclaim, at Tidbits and elsewhere and some commercial success, but which never quite lit up the imagination of students, academics, and others the world over. Looking back, I can see dozens of mistakes we made in marketing, development, distribution, you name it, and if I had my time over, I probably wouldn't have given up on it quite so quickly as we did.
But you live and learn.
And live and learn we did.
a different world
In 1994, to have successful commercial software you needed physical distribution, shrink wrapped boxes in stores, and almost certainly very deep pockets (we had pretty much no money) or a publishing deal (which meant someone else had almost complete say over your application, whether it was published at all, whether it was discontinued, how it was marketed, and for the privilege you got a 5%-10% cut).
There was also "shareware", back then something of a dirty word among many people, but few if any made their livelihoods that way. Remember, this was long before even a small fraction of your potential users were online. Shareware was mostly distributed on floppy disks, and you relied on the honesty of users to send you a check if they liked your application.
By 1995, we guessed that the future of software was online sales, distribution and marketing. I do, however, remember as Palimpsest approached its first release (which was probably 6 months after it was "good enough") speaking with a pretty senior person at a very large fruit-flavored hardware company which will remain nameless, who totally pooh-poohed the idea that the internet was going to be the medium of choice for software sales and distribution, saying "shareware failed" and so somehow web based distribution would too.
9 years later, I'd like to feel pretty vindicated. We staked our whole strategy on online distribution (we never called our software "shareware", because there was, and probably still is, an issue as to whether time limited demos qualify as shareware, and there was and remains a sense (both fair and unfair) among many that somehow shareware is inferior to "real software". The truth is some shareware is word class, a lo is pretty average at best, which is equally true of "commercial" software). Ironically, all software is in a sense "shareware" these days. From Macromedia's 30 day demos of all their software, to Adobe's pretty tight fisted (they may have changed their policy, but it was long this) demos which don't actually let you save. Someone missed the cluetrain there [though note ironically the first "signatory"].
But this doesn't really have much to do with Style Master. How do we get from a hypertext knowledge management system to a CSS editor?
Obviously, to distribute online you need a web site. So in 1994/5 Maxine and I set out to learn how to do this. Our first efforts are no longer online, though the wayback machine may dredge up some of them. It's proof though that everyone has to start somewhere.
At about the same time, I was doing some teaching at a TAFE college here in Sydney. The TAFE system is a statewide tertiary college system, traditionally focussed on the vocational sector. With a little web experience, I found myself "Johnny on the spot" and became the "web guy", developing and running web development courses.
This kept me in touch with developments in the web world, new browsers, new techniques, and so on. And one sunny day in 1997, while thinking about an "advanced" development course, I stumbled on CSS via Dreamweaver.
Rarely has an idea struck me so forcefully as CSS did. As a software engineer whose education was shaped by Object Orientation, and a formal, as opposed to ad hoc approach to development, web development had always struck me as disturbingly anarchic. I felt time and again we were failing to learn from the lessons of almost half a century of software development and electronic publishing (I actually often feel that still.)
Here, in CSS was a way of cutting the gordian knot. Separating structured content from its presentation. CSS also provided a new paradigm (overused word but accurate here) for the web as a medium. It was like a child's first steps or words, full of promise and possibility.
As a teacher, I felt DreamWeaver's CSS support was not particularly conducive to learning CSS, in essence you had to understand CSS rather well before its was of much help. So I looked further afield to find a good editor to help in teaching CSS, and found nothing any better. Being a software developer, naturally I thought, why not write one? My guess is that this was March or April 1998.
Give and you shall receive
I'm not sure how I convinced Maxine this was a good idea. I'll have to ask her . At any rate, then followed 6 months of hard work designing and developing Style Master, and developing resources for learning CSS. The experience of Palimpsest taught us that if you build it they won't come. Our strategy for getting web traffic was not to market Style Master, it was to provide plenty of resources that potential users of Style Master might find useful, and let them find those. This was long before google had taken over as the way of searching the web, with its results ranked in part by popularity. If our site simply focussed on Style Master, far fewer people would have linked to it, and so its popularity would have been much lower.
It seems to me a lesson that most larger software companies, and almost all small ones simply haven't learned. "Give and you shall receive" as it says somewhere. This wasn't pure cynicism, far from it. I believed, and still do, that CSS is truly fantastic. We recognized that one of the challenges CSS faced was the learning curve to get to grips with different way of doing web development. So we wrote guides, tutorials, browser support charts, answered questions on newsgroups and, mailing lists, wrote magazine articles. I think this is an important model for smaller software companies. Find a technology you believe in, help it grow and prosper, then grow and prosper with it. I see a similar great opportunity with SVG for instance right now.
Which brings us to September 1998. Our first sale was on the 9th of September, to someone in New York. Bless you Carl Howard if you are reading.
Much has happened since, which I'll try to write about soon. A Windows version in March of 1999, Style Master Pro about 5 years ago in September 1999, Layout Master in 2001, the complete rewrite for both Mac and Windows in 2002/3, and much still to come, touch wood.
Is that all there is?
Joel Spolsky, doyen of software bloggers, writes "Good software takes 10 years, get used to it" [it's a great article, read it]. In this age of supposed "internet time" it is worth stopping for a moment and realizing that all good things still take time. The DotCom boom of the late 1990s [through which I lived fitfully wondering where the gravy train was, I sure didn't see any] ironically teaches us this. The half baked, underdone business models of boo, pets.com, and a thousand other overnight sensations lie in tatters. Good solid technology takes time to get right. It was true a decade ago, a century ago, and it is true today.
And we are far from resting on our laurels with Style Master. Version 4 is due sooner than you might think, and has some very very innovative features.
CSS still excites us, the web still excites us, and Style Master still excites us. We feel very privileged.
 Maxine suggests that she thought it was folly all along, she just couldn't come up with a better idea that was legal.
September 03, 2004
Great night had by all at the standards for education and government briefing
Last night Web Essentials held the second of our free briefings, this time for education government.
We had almost 100 people turn out, from all kinds of government, education and commercial organsiations, and there was a real buzz in the room.
If last night was anything to go by, Web essentials will be everything we aim for and more.
Dean Jackson from the W3C spoke. He was entertaining, informative, and on top of that he's a great guy. Looking forward to more from him at Web Essentials. A word of warning to the others in the web standards smack down [see session 7], Dean is going to be hard to beat, so get into training now.
Roger Hudson also gave a great overview of issues and techniques in accessibility, Russ gave his trusty old "What are web standards" presentation, and we ha some great questions from the floor.
Why I am so excited about last night and the upcoming conference is that people care about this stuff. They know it is important, they want to learn more, they want to do the right thing.
Roll on September 30
p.s. we'll have some of the presentations, and related reading up at the Web Essentials site later today
September 01, 2004
Web Essentials '04 update - I'm excited
With a month to go 'til the conference, a quick update on Web Essentials (for those new around here, a 2 day web standards conference I am one of the conveners of, in Sydney Australia, September 30 and October 1 2004, featuring Dave Shea, Doug Bowman, Joe Clark, Dean Jackson, Russ Weakley and many more).
When you run something like this for the first time, you simply never know what is going to happen.
Sydney is not London, New York, or San Francisco, literally teeming with developers.
Web standards are still in their infancy, in terms of widespread adoption, but "crossing the chasm" without any doubt.
We started with the naive belief "if you hold it they will come". And you know what. We were right.
We have been blown away by the level of interest. We have people coming from every state and territory of Australia, New Zealand, and even some from Japan.
Sydney-siders, in their usual, leave everything to the last moment are actually outnumbered by those from outside Sydney. Don't miss out, there is a fair chance we'll sell out.
Now, to encourage you to get signed up, we have 5 copies of Dan Cederholm's Web Standards Solutions for the next 5 people who sign up.
And if you have are among the next 10 groups of 4 or more sign up, we have a 10 user license of XStandard standards compliant WYIWYG XHTML editor for your team.
Web Essentials features
If I do say so myself, if you are anywhere near Sydney, and miss this, you will kick yourself.
And we'll see you on September 30th.