Archive for May, 2009

Amazing AIR 4.0 demos!

If you’ve been reading the techblogs this week, you may be wondering “Is this the death of Flash?” There’s lots of commentary out there, and no matter how ill-founded, we’ll all likely end up in conversations with less-clued-in coworkers or friends asking, “Hey, I heard that *this* will finally be the death of Flash!” Fun, huh?

If so, then relax. It’s all going to get worse. ;-)

There are more corporate conferences coming up in the next few weeks, and a browser release or two. These are easy stories for a PR staff to get placed in newsblogs. We’re only at the beginning of a hype cycle. There’s more to come.

In a way, it’s similar to the blogosphere buzz cycle around Silverlight a few years ago. Back then it was tough to swallow comments like “makes Flex look like a toy”, “the execution of Adobe”, “the Web was rebooted today” and the like.

But it’s easier to deal with such high-level assertions once you examine the low-level basics. The WhatWG is a set of browser vendors who are drafting a new version of Hypertext Markup Language, and much of the controversy is around whether various vendor RIA specifications fit. One tipoff is that core questions — handling the IE-using majority, “plugins are good when they’re Google’s”, what VIDEO tag will actually do, “what innovation’s in imitation?”, many more — are actively being ignored. The only response is namecalling.

This is different than the Silverlight dynamic. Microsoft staff and fans actually addressed reasonable questions. Their weblogs were open to other viewpoints. Dissent was not ridiculed.

Further, these questions today are coming from the grassroots. Top-level bloggers may be touched for a good story, but their commenters raise a whole series of reasonable questions. And they get — no answers. That pressure for truth and openness will not decrease.

Here, let me pull some of the comments which struck me from a recent oreilly.com transcript of a Google presentation. (I’m leaving out names because I’m interested in the ideas, but if you commented there and want your words removed from here, then please let me know, thanks.) It’s just one blogpost’s comments among the many, but shows the disconnect between the suits and the street:

“Most companies want to reach the widest audience possible and will likely continue to ask for IE6 support for another 2 to 3 years. So we are looking at another 5 to 7 years before IE7 can be ignored and working with whatever basic HTML5 support is available in IE8.”

“The Google mantra about the web vs desktop is b******t. Do an objective comparison between (canvas or svg) vs ((flash or silverlight) or desktop) and you’ll quickly note the differences. We don’t need an academic paper or more buzz.”

“There’s no standard for video codecs, meaning each browser vendor will decide on what codecs to support if any. Which means in order for the video tag to work, the web developer will have to supply multiple versions of the video in a variety of codecs. This has the potential to get even messier… Meanwhile, from a user’s perspective, you unfortunately will have to switch browsers to view video in a different codex, which certain users may want to, as there’s a big difference in quality and performance in video codecs.”

“It’s just INSANE that people try to evolve on things like HTML, CSS and Javascript. CSS and HTML are not consistent and not all that robust.”

“Hi Tim, You wrote: ‘Microsoft has announced that it will support HTML 5.’ I’ve also read they have suggested breaking out different working groups to work on different parts of HTML 5. Do you have a link or reference to something where they’ve actually said they will support all the major features, in one form or another, of the current HTML 5 draft? I went looking for some sort of statement but couldn’t find it. Microsoft is always the elephant in the room when it comes to cross-browser support for HTML 5.”

“There are no plugins perhaps, but because several major vendors have refused to support Ogg Theora, there is currently no standard codec that does not have patent problems.”

“A couple of others have already made the ‘what do you mean, no plugins, no mismatched codecs?’ comments that I was going to add… Sadly, I see the demo html5 page at youtube seems to present only proprietary .mp4 video, requiring a proprietary plugin for those of us not using Safari.”

“In the graph the vertical axis is nerdgasmicity. The horizontal axis is goldfish-time. I got this from reddit.”

“Google going big for HTML5 is probably helped by the fact that the sole author for HTML5, Ian Hickson, works for Google.”

“OK, HTML 5 is probably awesome. But IE is gonna screw it all up by being 5 years late to adopt or going their own direction. Standards are great for development, but only if they are enforced!!”

“On the plugin vs. HTML 5 comments I don’t understand why anyone assumes it is a winner-take-all contest or that we will escape from “plugin hell” any time soon. The work Google and Mozilla are doing is wonderful but I also think many people take a more realistic attitude toward the value of plugins.”

There are some personal judgments in there, but also some reasonable questions too.

This week, those reasonable questions may be overwhelmed by effusive hype, but these questions will persist.

These are questions that the presenters must persuasively answer before the future they declare can arrive.

So… if you talk about Flash with your partners or friends, the next few weeks may be difficult. I don’t think the hype will reach Oprah-like levels, but it will be close. Hang in there. Look at the claims yourself, seek out skeptical questions, determine if these are openly answered.

But the trend’s your friend. Hype cycles last only so long before the journalistic pressure to debunk them becomes overwhelming. Truth does out. ;-)

Towards Sustainable Wolverines

Michael Lynton, Sony Pictures CEO, had an essay at Huffington Post today. He started by describing how a late mix of the big-budget Wolverine project had been stolen from a film lab, then distributed on the Internet for its first four weeks of public viewing.

He described the effects, and this part particularly struck me:


How many people will be as motivated to write a book or a song, or make a movie if they know it is going to be immediately stolen from them and offered to the world with no compensation whatsoever? And how many people whose work is connected with those creative industries — the carpenters, drivers, food service workers, and thousands of others — will lose their jobs as piracy robs their business of resources?

Internet users have become used to getting things when they want it and how they want it, and those of us in the entertainment business want to meet that kind of demand as efficiently and effectively as possible. But what has happened online is that if it is ‘beyond store hours’ and the shop is closed, a lot of people just smash the window and steal what they want. Freedom without restraint is chaos, and if we don’t figure out some way to prevent online chaos, the quantity, quality and availability of the kinds of entertainment, literature, art and scholarship we need to have a healthy, vibrant culture will suffer.

The people who lust after that content disrespected the wishes its creators.

Ugly to say, but a mob abused a minority.

That’s not a smart way to breed more Wolverines.

I don’t particularly like various plans I’ve heard to “control the Internet”. And I personally think current copyright law is often tantamount to establishing a rent-holder class above our shared cultural heritage.

But I do know that “what you subsidize you get more of, what you tax you get less of”. That “tax” of feeling ripped off means fewer creative projects will be judged practical. That will hurt us all.

We’ve got to find new ways to encourage creation and communication… ways desirable for both speaker and listener, sustainable, without undesirable side effects.

Adobe co-founder Charles Geschke described the challenge, in a Wharton interview in summer of 2008:


One of the things I talk a lot about is the necessity to juggle all of the constituencies that have an interest in the business: shareholders, customers, employees, vendors, and the communities in which we operate. Those constituencies are all mildly in conflict with one another in terms of what’s best for them. Your job as a leader in a company is to find an appropriate way to juggle those conflicting interests so everybody feels like they’re getting a fair deal, without letting any one dominate the others because they’ll drag your company down.

We need to find sustainable solutions so that content creators will feel fairly treated… consumers will feel fairly treated… partners will feel fairly treated… and those who invest in Adobe will feel fairly treated.

Simply put, we’ve got to find sustainable ways to breed more Wolverines, and other critters like them…. ;-)

… then they call you names….

From the ongoing WhatWG HTML5 IRC chat:

# # [07:31] hsivonen: pasting some URLs for to have a record in the log:
# # [07:32] hsivonen: http://twitter.com/jdowdell/status/1608188445
# # [07:32] hsivonen: http://twitter.com/jdowdell/status/1352144527
# # [07:32] hsivonen: http://twitter.com/jdowdell/status/1344855975
# # [07:32] hsivonen: http://twitter.com/jdowdell/status/1464529893
# # [07:32] hsivonen: (end of flood)
# # [07:34] * othermaciej: is not sure he gets the theme there
# # [07:34] hsivonen” seems like jd considers the variability of HTML runtimes a problem, so I guess HTML5 should err on the side off well-defined behavior
# # [07:46] othermaciej: oh you’re quoting the Adobe trollblogger?
# # [07:52] hsivonen: othermaciej, I’m quoting the Adobe Flash blogger who seems to blog a lot about HTML these days
# # [07:57] MikeSmith: johnny one-note
# # [07:57] othermaciej: hsivonen, after reading some of his recent posts, I stand by my prior assertion
# # [08:04] othermaciej: yeah, he’s basically Adobe’s Asa Dotzler
# # [08:09] MikeSmith: another possible competitor in this race -
# # [08:09] MikeSmith: http://twitter.com/mattmay/status/1884053829
# # [08:10] MikeSmith: but I think he’ll need to try harder than that if he really wants to win it
# # [08:10] othermaciej: it makes Adobe look sad and desparate to try to fight against HTML having more features
# # [08:12] Hixie: i don’t think matt is fighting html having more features in that twitter
# # [08:13] Hixie: since leaving the w3c would make progress on html5 far quicker and easier
# # [08:13] Hixie: if anything, he’s fighting _for_ html having more features
# # [08:14] othermaciej: I wonder why John likes the catchphrase “browser brands” so much
# # [08:14] othermaciej: why does he say that instead of “browsers”? is that an Adobe thing?
# # [08:17] hsivonen: othermaciej, the impression I get is that he wants to portray browsers as different chrome designs
# # [08:17] othermaciej: but wouldn’t that portray the engines as essentially interchangeable?
# # [08:17] othermaciej: which is contrary to his point?
# # [08:17] hsivonen: othermaciej, I suppose
# # [08:18] hsivonen: othermaciej, although I think the point is that you pick your favorite toolbar and run Flash in the space below it
# # [08:18] othermaciej: ah
# # [08:22] othermaciej_: “browser brand” is not a very common phrase outside his blog
# # [08:22] othermaciej_: but yeah I can see how he might want to take the “browsers are just Flash loaders” position

“hsivonen” is Henri Sivonen, who may still be associated with Mozilla… “othermaciej” is Maciej Stachowiak, employed by Apple… “Hixie” is Ian Hickson, once from Netscape, then Opera, now Google.

(Thanks to (the often needlessly foulmouthed ;-) Mr. LastWeekInHTML5 for extracting the above bit from the public-yet-pragmatically-inaccessible IRC chat.)

I’m not “a troll” for asking inconvenient questions. Let me rephrase just a few of the major outstanding ones:

  1. How do you propose that these RIA features in the hypertext spec should actually work out in the world? VIDEO tag seems like it will fail with codec ambiguity. HTML is intrinsically a “Let’s Use Microsoft Runtimes!” kind of scene. How can you specify the syntax for new features, without any realistic plan for making these features possible in the real world?
  2. If you’re actually seeking browser support for patent-unencumbered codecs, expanded local storage, drawing engines and such, then why aren’t you making plugins for other browsers? If it’s because “plugins are not first-class citizens in the browser”, then improve your plugin support and cross-browser homogeneity so that they are. At the very least your VIDEO tag plan must take advantage of existing video support out there in the world. Why has Google Gears been allowed to languish? Why isn’t a CANVAS ActiveX Control seriously discussed? Why do you let an anti-plugin prejudice spoil you to the possibilities for increasing your own success?
  3. How are you really helping content developers reach their audiences? The only benefit VIDEO tag seems to bring is to browser vendors who wish to fragment web video into their own proprietary silos. Ten years ago DHTML powerplays fragmented browser support, and it was content developers who have been paying the cost ever since. It’s good that the current spec will clarify past hypertext ambiguities. But introducing vast new realms of ambiguity does not help. How is this HTML5 proposal actually helping creators reach their audiences, out in the real world?

(For some of the IRC content: My tweets on twitter.com make sense if you try to use that UI — each refresh brings back a different set of Ajaxy interactions. A “troll” is someone who uses the anonymity possible on the Internet to harass others — it is not someone who takes named responsibility for asking reasonable questions. “Browser brands” refers to the multiple HTML engines consumers might choose: Microsoft, Mozilla, Apple, Opera, and Google — they differ in their capabilities. Browsers are not “just Flash loaders”… hypertext browsers are vital and unique tools, and we all hope they remain as such.)

Reasonable questions, no matter how difficult, deserve answers. Raising such questions does not deserve namecalling. And namecalling… does not persuade.

Opera CEO quotes on Flash

Yesterday there was a newspaper article titled “Opera: Web standards could eclipse Flash”. This prompted a big debate on Slashdot — about CSS vs TABLEs and such. ;-)

I stayed out of it because I didn’t know what Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner actually said. Turns out there’s a transcript, and it shows that the headline was picked out from a part at the end of the interview. After a long section on widgets, then on browser competition and HTML5, this came up, before being closed out by app stores and Palm Pre:

(Q) In your presentation earlier, you were talking about what HTML 5 can do as a replacement for Flash.

(A) I think you can do most things with the web standards today. In some ways, you may say you don’t need Flash. On the other hand, I like Adobe — they’re a nice company. I hope they flourish and do well, so this is not about killing Flash. I think Flash will be around for a very, very long time, but I think it’s natural that web standards also evolve to be richer. You can then choose whether you’d like to do it through web standards or whether you’d like to use Flash. What we definitely don’t need is more proprietary technology — that’s the main thing. We have Flash. It’s there — fine. Let’s not get anything more.

(Q) Are you talking about Flash becoming more niche?

(A) It’s more of a choice of what you like doing.

(Q) Where’s the line between what web standards can do and what Flash can do?

(A) You can do everything, I believe, through web standards — you don’t need to use something else. But there might be something where you believe Flash is better; then you choose to use Flash.

He seems mistaken to me — comparing a proposed spec with an existing worldly ability, comparing something minority browsers may make practical in the future with specific features Flash innovated in the past, all while ignoring further capabilities Flash already provides in the world’s browsers, and the rate of innovation it promises to continue fostering in the future — but Flash definitely wasn’t the main point of his interview.

I’m sure the reporter made much better ad revenue with this choice of title, though. ;-)

(Browser vendors have an interesting perspective. They focus on what they themselves can code. They tend not to focus on the real issues of how realworld developers can deliver to realworld audiences. Adobe tries to bridge those silos, removing barriers to creators publishing their work. Different priorities.)

Anyway, no big deal here… much of yesterday’s debate seemed to be more about online drama than about what the Opera CEO actually said. Time will correct many of yesterday’s arguments…. ;-)

CNET clickjacking comment

I went through the registration process for CNET, and after creating the account it said my username was already in use. So instead of asking a clarifying question at the original article, I have to make a separate blogpost here, and hope the reporter sees it….

Elinor Mills at CNET today mentioned Flash and webcams during a clickjacking article. I’ll snip out the relevant passages: “In a demo at CNET offices on Thursday, Grossman showed how someone could launch a clickjacking attack using Flash to spy on someone by getting them to turn on their computer Web cam without knowing it… In the Web cam demo, the iFrame created contains a Flash pop-up window that asks the user to grant permission to have the Web cam turned on. When the victim clicks the link, the Web cam is turned on and secretly begins recording everything the user does in front of the computer… In the Web cam scenario, the best defense is probably to put a post-it note or other item over the Web cam lens and to disable the microphone in the software, he said. Flash Player 10 provides some protection by preventing anything from obscuring the security permissions dialogue box, he said… More details are in a white paper on the technique, written by Grossman and Robert Hansen of SecTheory and published in September 2008.”

Key question: Were you using the current Adobe Flash Player, or the version current at the time of last year’s whitepaper?

If someone has a new way to make various browsers obscure Player’s permissions dialog, then we need to know about it. But from the description above, with Player version undescribed, I can’t determine whether there’s a new issue here.

Background: What is “clickjacking”?

(a) It’s a failure in website security where a malevolent third-party has either hacked in their own code, or persuaded a site to use third-party code through social services or advertising — basically a trusted website hosting untrustworthy content. It’s a flaw in website integrity.

(b) It’s a failure in browser security where third-party code can hide what the reader is clicking on — where What You See Is NOT What You Click. The browser vendors each seem to say their offering fixes at least some of the methods to defeat click integrity while others do not, which makes me wonder whether any browser has truly addressed this failure in browsers’ click integrity.

(c) Flash isn’t involved directly in this “What You See Is NOT What You Click” problem. It’s used as a poster child of what can happen when infected sites can take advantage of browser failures.

Summary: There’s a new article, but it is not clear whether there’s a new issue.

Moblin Flash

Techmeme tonight has a cluster on “Intel brings rich UI to Moblin Linux platform”. Here’s the source blogpost from Imad Sousou, Director of Intel Open Source Technology Center. In the section “Moblin v2.0 Beta Feature Summary”, this part caught my eye:


A web browser optimized for the Moblin 2.0 Netbook user interface. Based on the latest Mozilla browser technology revised into a Clutter shell, the browser gives you access to the whole internet, as well as advanced features, such as video embedding and the latest Flash plug-in, while integrating seamlessly into the user interface.

I searched for a bit, and found this on the Intel Software site:


The Intel Mobile Internet Device (MID) platform provides a full internet experience in a pocket-sized form factor. Combining Moblin-based operating systems with the Intel Atom processor, MIDs are able to run any application that has been built for the x86 architecture, including Adobe Flash 10* and Adobe AIR 1.5*. While the features of the devices that are and will be on the market vary depending on OEM and target market, there are several features that the devices share in common: small form factor, emphasis on internet connectivity rather than extensive storage, and alternate input methods.

The documentation at moblin.org has this tidbit:


The current Home Screen UI is written in Adobe Flash. To add a new application icon to the home screen, add a .desktop-formatted file to the /usr/share/mobile-basic-flash/applications directory.

There are also older mailing list archives which discuss installing or redistributing Adobe Flash Player.

Here’s a technote titled “Install the Adobe AIR Runtime on a MID” from Dec 2008.

Not much hard info yet. I know Intel has mentioned Moblin in their profile at Open Screen Project, and their television announcements at CES in January were also a surprise to me.

I’ll ask other folks in the office tomorrow. If you’ve got links to more background, please drop a note in comments, thanks.

Comments back up

The back-end to blogs.adobe.com and weblogs.macromedia.com changed over the weekend, and I had some additional downtime due to a password glitch.

I’ve pushed all the comments which were in the queue and they should be live now. But if you don’t see a weekend comment here, it may have gotten lost during the switch, and if you could resubmit, I’ll be able to see it now. Thanks!

Building upon untested assumptions

This morning webstandards.org printed an “Interview with Ian Hickson, editor of the HTML 5 specification”. A particularly disturbing section:

Bruce Lawson: You’ve said that HTML 5 is in “direct competition with other technologies intended for applications deployed over the Web, in particular Flash and Silverlight”. Why is it so important to do so, and isn’t it a lost cause given that those techologies are already out there while HTML 5 is not yet complete?

Ian Hickson: HTML 4 is also in direct competition with proprietary technologies, and it’s winning, hands-down. HTML5 is just continuing the battle, because if we don’t keep up, then the proprietary technologies will gain ground.

Bruce Lawson: What are the main philosophies of HTML 5?

Ian Hickson: Backwards-compatibility, incremental baby steps, defining error handling. Those are the main philosophies.

All day long I’ve been trying to puzzle out how someone could fit those sentences together, what type of ideas must first be assumed in order to make such an utterance conceivable, much less worth saying in an interview.

Tweezing apart some of the apparent assumptions of anyone able to make such a statement:

  • “HTML 4″, as a cross-company hypertext specification, is said to be somehow directly comparable to a common clientside capability such as Flash. How can the HTML 4 spec compete with its own extension mechanism? What must you assume before being able to craft such a sentence?
  • Aside from issues of logical levels and comparing apples to oranges, there is the apparent assumption that “anything Flash can do, my favored runtimes must do, better”. Why? If Flash has added many capabilities to today’s World Wide Web, why must people billing themselves as “The Open Web” fight it? He seems to think there’s obvious reason, but there’s a step missing in the description.
  • Perhaps most importantly of all, he’s assuming that a hypertext specification should become a multimedia/RIA specification. This is dangerous to the entire HTML ecology. Even the current specs are confusing, after they’ve spun out styling, object model, even image formats into separate specs. Stuffing an additional drawing spec and a storage spec and animation and 3D and what-all into the hypertext spec weighs it down even further. I think he is espousing a recipe for ruin, and I don’t know why, because he doesn’t publicly examine his assumptions.
  • The mention of Silverlight is intriguing. This cross-browser plugin has had no realworld effect. Silverlight does not realistically threaten Chrome. HTML5 and Silverlight perhaps compete in blogosphere mindshare. Or perhaps he’s just raising it as an “M$ boogeyman” to better bash Flash. There’s something that prompts him to include Silverlight in his assertion, but it is not clear what assumptions underlay its mention.
  • Why even bother to say “and it’s winning, hands-down”? Is there a “winning”? If so, how do you measure it? What type of boosterism could produce such an utterance?
  • Bruce directly asked whether this was “a lost cause” because Flash was already in use while HTML5 was still in committee. Ian ignored this vital question of how to bring a concept out into the world, making a capability genuinely useful to people. It seems he assumes it’s not important enough to think about.
  • He assumes that “HTML5″ is “continuing a battle”. Perhaps he knows what the battle is. The rest of us have to guess at his assumptions.
  • He assumes that there is something called “proprietary technologies”. I assume he does not assume this includes Apple’s Webkit governance, or Google’s ubiquitous web beacons.
  • The “main philosophies of HTML 5″ include a helpful point: defining what browsers “should” do when they encounter improper content. But “incremental baby steps”!? It’s more like a wild jump to Rich Internet Applications. Maybe the assumption here is “No one will challenge me on this jive”.

I’ve been trying to see the world through Ian’s eyes, but I cannot — he has built a rhetorical structure atop untested assumptions, instead of establishing upon common ground.

What would I like to see?

I’d like to see some clear discussion on the appropriate scope of a spec that any hypertext implementation should be able to easily reach. If CSS is a separate specification, then why isn’t RIA?

I want to see more “standards” discussions about the needs of people who actually publish to the web. We should not have had the last ten years of people working around browser differences. No more!

I wouldn’t mind seeing standalone RIA specs in the SMIL, HTML+TIME, SVG mode. These live or die on their own, and do not threaten the extraordinarily-useful HTML spec itself.

I want to see “open web” evangelists find ways to bring their functionality into other browser brands. Instead of worrying about microshare, figure a way to make cheap codecs available to any person in any browser today. Browsers were opened up to third-party rendering long ago — don’t fight to turn back the clock. Stop railing against cross-browser functionality; stop thinking you must own it all yourself; if you say you’re for “open video” then act it. A campaign for a Theora plugin would hold more relevance.

(The proposed fragmentation of Today’s Web doesn’t worry me as much… Flash makes too much sense for people to abandon it, and Adobe thrives by uniting fragmented silos. Those content developers who don’t see through the hype will be the ones to pay the price. But increasing fragmentation and siloing would not be a good thing for HTML in general, which is why I’m writing this essay.)

What do I think is really going on?

I think it’s a corporate powerplay to “bless as standard” runtimes from the corporations pushing the multimedia syntax. There’s no angle for realworld developers in VIDEO tag and the rest — their proponents shy away from any discussion of how these might someday be supported and useful in the world. This campaign is not for content developers or their audiences. It’s a marketing play, like how Microsoft lobbied for OOXML.

That’s why it doesn’t matter that VIDEO leaves codecs unaddressed… why it doesn’t really matter that most consumers use Internet Explorer. This is not really about content developers. It’s about browser vendors. They can make any content requirements they wish upon publishers, once their engine is “blessed” for VIDEO tag.

Some vendors sell proprietary hardware. Some sell proprietary data about what you watch to advertisers. I suspect either would be happy to fragment Flash capabilities if they could. Instead they’ve found other ways to construct a walled garden around audiences. And it’s easy enough to find fanboys as footsoldiers.

Flash scares them because it opens things up too much, levels the playing field. That’s what I think is really going on.

Summary: The HTML5 editor says he’s fighting a battle against Flash. But he doesn’t explain why, so it’s hard for us to help him get better.

[Comments: I'm not really keen on diluting this conversation with guesses about what he may have meant, thanks in advance.]

Who’s Your Audience?

Striking graphics at Ars Technica… go take a peek. By these piecharts, two-thirds of The Web uses Internet Explorer, but one-half of people visiting ArsTechnica.com are using Firefox.

The numbers may not mean much (the top graphic didn’t even cite its source, much less its methodology!), but I think most people would agree on the trend — delivering as Ajax really means “Let’s Use Microsoft Runtimes!”, and some sites may have significant audiences who use other browsers.

Should ArsTechnica.com ignore visitors using Internet Explorer? That’s their decision to make. But if they did, the IE-using 20% of their audience would be ghettoized like a mainstream website which barred Firefox users. Not pretty, not kind.

HTML design, if it’s not elitist, needs to work atop the various HTML browser brands that people on the Internet are currently using. The functionality available is the functionality these browsers all share.

But almost all these different browser brands and versions already have Adobe Flash Player 10 installed. That’s a lot more functionality, right there at your fingertips.

The minor fluctuations in “browser market share” mean a lot less, in the long run, than what you can do in those browsers, today.

Article errata

Corrections to a WIRED article titled “Mozilla Brings Webapps to the Desktop, Challenges AIR, Silverlight”:

“Other technologies currently exist for running web apps on the desktop, like Abode’s AIR and Microsoft’s Silverlight. These technologies offer a tight integration with the PC desktop that browser-based solutions can’t yet match. For example, applications using Adobe’s or Microsoft’s frameworks have the ability to operate smoothly without an internet connection, and you can drag and drop things like images and text into them.”

The author is describing AIR, not Silverlight.

(Readable info on SLOOB, Silverlight beta 3′s “out of browser” feature, is available from Tim Heuer… like Prism, SLOOB lets a consumer hack off an existing web asset into a new host and does not provide additional desktop-style APIs. AIR is unique.)

“But while AIR and Silverlight both require proprietary tools to build and run these apps, Mozilla’s Prism add-on uses only the same open-source technologies upon which the majority of the web is already built — HTML, JavaScript and CSS.”

Any Prism page can also be an AIR page — you can use any HTML construction technique for AIR, no “proprietary” tools needed. Same with SWF — you don’t have to use “proprietary” tools to create SWF.

“In the back of everyone’s mind is the idea that the HTML/JavaScript powered desktop apps will soon overtake the proprietary efforts laid out by Adobe and Microsoft.”

In the back of my mind is the thought that propagandists will tell bigger and bigger whoppers until they topple over calamitously.

“Google has also largely solved the problem of offline access using the company’s Gears add-on, which is available for most modern browsers as an free, open-source download.”

Gears tried to fork Apollo’s SQLite APIs, and has not moved out of beta since its arrival in May of 2007. I am not able to readily find web documentation on its current staffing levels.

“The specification for HTML 5 also includes rules for enabling offline data access for webapps.”

As Doug Crockford notes: “HTML 5 is not the next version of the standard. It is a proposal, a work in progress. It has not been through a formal review process. It has not been officially approved by W3C or by any other standards body. Until it is formally adopted, no browser maker should be compelled to implement it. Being subtly incompatible with a working draft is not evidence of bad intent. Indeed, there are some people (such as me, for example), who feel that the whole HTML 5 process is out of control and should be reset, starting over with new rules and better management.”

“When coupled with technologies like Gears and HTML 5, Prism could end up a more appealing, fully open, standards-based alternative for developers wanting to make desktop versions of their apps.”

Prism lets consumers view an existing WWW page in a new browser instance.

Developers can add some authoring hints to these public URLs, to “fork the web” where the same page functions differently in different browser brands.

(AIR does not fork the web, because it uses standard HTML authoring techniques but outside of the normal web addresses that any browser should be able to read.)

Earlier in the article: “The scheme offers a number of advantages, the most significant of which is the ability to sandbox particular web apps. For example if you move Google Docs into its own stand-alone window, an errant script in your main Firefox window could cause your browser to freeze and crash, but your unsaved work in Google Docs wouldn’t be lost.”

This describes running browser instances as separate processes, not sandboxing.

For the article as a whole:

I followed XUL, XULRunner, and WebRunner. Once Adobe started talking about true beyond-the-browser needs with AIR, those efforts were revived and rebranded to defuse the buzz. Yesterday there was a lot of positive attention paid to the New York Times Reader, and today….

“The Open Web” needs to open up.