Category Archives: Standards

SxSW 2012 Redux

Things HAPPEN after the browser wars panel I’ve now moderated for five years in a row at SxSW. Brendan posts this about H.264 in Mozilla.

Then, Jeremy Keith, our unofficial rabble-rouser, excoriates the cognoscenti about a certain “lack of imagination.” Chris Wilson, finally at liberty to blog and tweet about his responsibilities as web platform guy for Google, responds conversationally.

Browser wars always delivers. Thank you, Brendan (“Dart? Good luck with that!”), Charles (who conducted a much-needed straw poll: “Who knows what vendor prefixing is?” to which many hands went up, underscoring the fact that SxSW is really our favorite audience), Chris (“Do you ship VBScript?”), and John (“Chromeless — my favorite word.”).

The panel always coincides with my birthday. I won’t get mawkish, but I will say that there’s something interesting about growing up with web browsers professionally. When I was with Netscape, I talked a relentless amount of smack about IE and railed against closed-source stacks. That kind of talk is antiquated now, really. Flash fallback (for video) notwithstanding, there are open sourced stacks that confuse the web platform landscape. We talked about some of those during the panel, chiefly Dart (though SPDY and VP8 got some mention, along with Native Client). At some point, I found myself moderating a panel where browser vendors agree about the importance of DRM, and its inevitability on the web platform, at least as far as video goes. Times have changed. Have we all grown up? There used to be visceral auto-immune responses in some circles to any kind of mention of DRM whatsoever.

This time, SxSW was bigger than ever. Long lines. LOTS of long lines. And after-after-after parties for people that scorn sleep. Of course, I allowed myself some minor peccadilloes this year at SxSW. Like how I found myself on Snoop Dogg’s tour bus at 4a.m. one night, somewhere on the way to San Antonio. But that’s another kind of story. You’ll have to ask me about it in person.

Update: You can follow the H.264 conversation on the hacks blog also if only to be exposed to a different comment stream.

Browser Wars Episode V: The Angry Birds Era

It’s back on again. Five times makes an institution, I suppose, despite what some feel is an anachronistic name (“Browser WARS? Haven’t you won already?”). This year, with Angry Birds getting at least an honorable mention. March 10 2012, from 5PM – 6PM, at Salon K of the Hilton Hotel in Austin, Texas, for SxSW.

I can’t seem to stay away. This is a vibrant space, and the very smart people I will moderate during Saturday’s discussion are the forerunners of it: Brendan Eich, who invented JavaScript, and is Mozilla’s CTO; Chris Wilson, who worked on every version of IE till IE8 and now works on Chrome for Google (we’re thrilled to have him back, following a brief moratorium); Charles McCathie Nevile, Opera’s Chief Standards Officer, back again this year; and John Hrvatin, IE’s Program Manager and a veteran from last year.

The technologies that we steward here have profound implications for society, and an hour is tight. Recently, Microsoft protested about how Google circumvents privacy in IE and Safari (showing, amongst other things, that two players, Google and Microsoft, are at loggerheads frequently).

Then, there are interesting questions about content itself. Should web video have DRM, or is that the real anachronism? Content protection measures in HTML5 Video proposed by Google, Microsoft, and Netflix have been dubbed unethical; parties within one company clearly don’t agree about how to take it forward, but that’s really how the web works (and big organizations like Google).

And then there’s those Angry Birds. Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web, called for installable web apps to become more widespread, something which Ian Hickson (editor of the HTML5 specification) dubs “anathema.” What prevents Angry Birds from being an HTML5 app on mobile, and what exactly are the application stacks the web is in competition with? Some of our panelists and their organizations have been moved to call us to arms.

Throw in the vendor prefixing controversy (now as seen in the popular press!), SPDY, VP8 and other “non-standard” well-meaning projects, along with the Metro environment’s use of HTML5, and I think we’ve got ourselves enough wheat and chaff for a panel. As usual, audience participation counts for at least one-third of the panel, so come with questions. I look forward to seeing you all there, and to a Saturday night out in Austin after the panel. That’s an institution with longevity, too.

browser logos

SXSW 2011 and Browser Wars IV

On March 15 2011 the browser wars panel is back in Austin again, and I’m back again as moderator. We took a year off last year, but this year I’m headed to Texas with renewed gusto to once again pit representatives from Mozilla’s Firefox browser (Brendan Eich, inventor of JavaScript and Mozilla’s CTO), Google’s Chrome browser (Alex Russell, behind Dojo and Chrome Frame), Microsoft’s IE (John Hrvatin, lead Program Manager of IE), and Opera (Lars Erik Bolstad, Head of Engineering, Opera Software) together to talk about their web browser projects, HTML5, and about the new wave of competition.

Once again, it’s a contentious time for a web platform discussion (which is what has made moderating this panel fun, really). Firstly, there’s the small question of whether web browsers themselves are no longer the juiciest part of the newest new technology and media landscape. The nice folks at Wired Magazine think the web’s kind of done (as in, dead), since everyone’s using apps on iPhones and happily signing in to closed systems now (they mention HTML5 in passing twice).

But then again, for the past two years, HTML5 has been the dubious all-inclusive catch phrase for all that’s new on the web and in mobile, and has found itself at the fore of various axes that corporations have to grind against each other. But catch phrases easily lend themselves to obfuscation, and sometimes companies have to be told off for all the nuance that’s lost through their misguided HTML5 advocacy. Even the W3C got into the act, first sanctioning the all-inclusive catch phrase and then recanting in favor of nuance.

Let’s cut to the chase: how fast can we evolve the web really, what’s with app stores, HTML5 video, and where are the painful spots with disagreements when we collectively craft standards on behalf of developers? As always, audience participation is a huge part of the discussion, so come with burning questions and pressing curiosity. March 15, 2011.

No Sleep Till Brooklyn

Sometimes a potent mix of wanderlust and the allure of an unanswered “what if” question causes change to happen. I recently moved from San Francisco to New York, and I recently transitioned from my full-time role at Mozilla to a part-time consulting role.

Of course, soon after I left, the Giants are making a World Series run, making me long to be near Willie Mays plaza. I love San Francisco, with its micro-climates, improbable topography, and draconian parking inspectors. I spent one third of my adult life here. I worked with inspiring people to advance the reach and capability of a massively hyper-connected world; I played enthusiastically (if not adeptly) in the magnificent outdoors; I got up to all the usual urban shenanigans in my twenties, even getting my heart broken and wizened; and — at the great risk of courting the obvious metaphor — I emerged from the fog of a prolonged adolescence into what I hope will pass for maturity. I’ll miss the City by the Bay. There’s no place like it in all the world.

Within reason, I relish change, and seek it out whenever I feel I’m getting lulled into complacency. I’ve wanted to explore non-technical projects for a long time now, and the best way to do that was to leave the epicenter of technology for a while. My childhood brought with it much travel; I was raised in India, Hong Kong, Ethiopia, Russia, China, and France, with some time in Canada. I often dodge direct questions about where I grew up, preferring the quick version of the story, but I am sticking to the facts when I tell people that San Francisco is the longest I’ve ever lived in any one place. So why, then, New York?

I’ll spare you my romantic observations about cities. E.B. White (of Strunk and White and Charlotte’s Web fame) said it much better than I ever can back in 1948 (but you should read him in 2010, since his words have aged so well). A small snippet:

“There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size, and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter — the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these three trembling cities the greatest is the last — the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high-strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.”

For the next conceivable while, then, I’ll be a settler. I’ll bring to New York my “what if” questions, and see what happens when I pursue the answers with passion.

The transition does mean I’ll miss the people I worked with over the years, particularly at Mozilla, a project I grew up with almost right out of college. Few things compare to the thrill of contributing to something that you really believe in. Mozilla paved the way for what is now the triumph of open-source on the web over a closed-source monopoly. Not working on it full-time means that I’ll no longer be associated with some things, like being the Chair of the WebGL WG or being front and center for developer relations. But it also means I can take on some manageable tasks and make sure they get chaperoned through to completion.

I’m in what seems to be a a bigger pond now — a chaotic, crowded one with four seasons and a subway and even more draconian parking inspectors. The Fall is lovely here, and I am optimistic.

Tantek Çelik Working With Mozilla

When we tell the story of how the web is advanced, we encounter a lot of personalities — passionate advocates of the open web, who have been doing needle-moving things since the fractious era of the (first) browser wars. Tantek Çelik is one such personality, and I’m pleased to say that he’s going to be working with Mozilla as a consultant for a few months to help us out with important projects in the CSS and identity space. Both are his sweet spots. Long-time Mac users will recall with fondness IE 5 for Mac, which Tantek was responsible for. At the time, it pushed the CSS envelope even further than IE on Windows did (making Tantek our favorite renegade Microsoft engineer). He’s also the progenitor of the CSS Box Model Hack, former CTO of Technorati, as well as one of the forces behind

Tantek and I first met as competitors in 2002 at an event called Meet the Makers (organized by Jason Calacanis and Brian Alvey), where he was the IE guy and I was the Netscape guy. Along with Doug Bowman (who had just redesigned the Wired news site with pure CSS), we were on a panel at that event discussing web standards with a bunch of web developers. And while at that time we each worked for organizations whose fierce competition characterized the early evolution of the web (*sigh with Netscape moving from underdog to extinction), I was struck by how motivated Tantek was to get standards right.

It is remarkable what the passage of time can do. Not only are we furthering common goals for the betterment of the web, as we have in the past, but now we’re both working in various capacities for Mozilla. Tantek will help us out with the CSS3 Flex Box Model, figuring out what the right thing to do with respect to stylable HTML5 form controls are, and help us with fundamental questions of identity and the open social web in connection with the account manager initiative in Firefox.

Update 1: here’s a bit on C|Net about Mozilla working with Tantek.

Update 2: here’s a Belorussian translation of this blog post.