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    Flipboard and the “mobile web” dream…

    Sunday, February 15th, 2015

    According to the luminaries of the web design world, the “mobile web” doesn’t exist. Stephen Hay said it, Smashing Magazine said so and Jeremy Keith amongst many others.

    Except, it does. Not as a technical reality, but as a dream of marketing and overly excited managers who believe in magical powers of their engineers. And it is nothing new. We’ve been there before, and we probably will get there again. Every few years a new form factor or technology comes out that promises a web that is catering perfectly to a very niche need whilst being open and available to all. Or – in other words – water that is almost, but not totally wet.

    Flipboard’s magical journey at 60 fps

    Last week Flipboard engineering released the Kraken with their “60 fps on the mobile web” post, explaining how they managed to give the new “web version” of Flipboard a buttery smooth 60 frames per second on mobile by forfeiting the DOM and rendering the whole thing in Canvas. The general outrage was that it was read as a call to give up on the DOM and use react.js and Canvas instead.

    Kid needs light-up shoes to run faster - we need canvas to have a performing web app

    Not surprisingly, this sparked a lot of discussion and annoyance toward them. But let’s step back a bit: first of all, it is a good thing when engineering teams publish their findings and tell us why they made some decisions. It can be a great learning resource and is a courageous thing to do. In a world where people spend most of their time dismembering technical posts on hacker news putting yourself out there means you also need to deal with a lot of polarised feedback. You need to learn fast how to deal with trolls and people using these systems to grandstand. So, thanks are in order – thank you, Flipboard. The post is detailed, it explains what they tried to do and how they achieved it.

    The usefulness of such a resource starts getting questionable when hype kicks in and people take it as gospel. Flipboard did not claim that what they do is the perfect way to achieve happiness on mobile. Instead they are very open about their intentions:

    In the pursuit of 60fps we sometimes resort to extreme measures. Flipboard for mobile web is a case study in pushing the browser to its limits. While this approach may not be suitable for all applications, for us it’s enabled a level of interaction and performance that rivals native apps.

    Right now, mobile is still hot. HTML5 is still hot. A company pushing the boundaries of both is hot. That’s why it is good value for a tech company to write articles like that. And I am 100% sure the Flipboard engineers have the heart in the right place and rightfully are proud of what they have achieved.

    Solving the right problem with the wrong approach

    That said, the title is terrible as it promises a simple answer to a huge problem. Or, on reflection, not a problem, but a massive misunderstanding.

    What this post told me most of all is that it isn’t solving an issue of the web. It is about simulating a native interface for a mobile touch device at 60 fps using web technologies. It’s aim is to run smoothly on the currently hot device that the most affluent people use – let’s say the iPhone 6. They are not beating around the bush about this at all:

    Now we’re coming full circle and bringing Flipboard to the web. Much of what we do at Flipboard has value independent of what device it’s consumed on: curating the best stories from all the topics, sources, and people that you care about most. Bringing our service to the web was always a logical extension.

    There’s a massive flaw in this: it tries to bring value independent of what device it is consumed on and then it applies assumptions and concepts that are only beneficial to a mobile, touch-enabled device.

    This is a porting exercise. This is bringing something to the web. It is not creating a web product. That would be reaching as many people as possible, and making your content available independent of hardware, ability and environment. You can not “go to web”. The web is not another form factor when your starting point is a very restricted environment. That’s how we got text-only versions of Flash movies and “accessible versions” of DHTML monstrosities. Using web technology means you start with the assumption that you have no control over the way your content is consumed. And that’s as far removed as it can from what Flipboard said:

    Flipboard launched during the dawn of the smartphone and tablet as a mobile-first experience, allowing us to rethink content layout principles from the web for a more elegant user experience on a variety of touchscreen form factors.

    And this is why calling this a web experience is ill-advised from the get-go. As Faruk Ates put it:

    …what Flipboard unleashed onto the world a “Web” version is akin to calling a collection of tires, AA batteries and spare car parts a Tesla.

    This is not about the technical implementation. The flaw is in the idea of turning a native app that was specifially designed for a certain form factor into a “web version”. The journey explained is full of assumptions.

    The first one is the big 60. All our web technology efforts need to match the 60 fps threshold or they are useless, right? Well, looking at my Nexus 5 device with Android Lollipop and anything I could do to be state-of-the-art I can safely say that not a single app works consistently smoothly at 60 fps or doesn’t stutter from time to time. So, I guess, I have no apps.

    Of course, we need goals to aspire to and some things to measure against. But defining something like 60fps as a baseline is pretty naive considering the fragmentation of hardware and the amount of abstraction layers an HTML5 app has to go through. Maybe considering less greedy interaction models might be a way forward?

    Which brings me to the second assumption: endless scrolling is what the web is about. And from there, the article tries to make that work. True, a lot of solutions have endless scrolling. Also true, many a time that is more annoying than a pagination would have been.

    What Flipboard did here is to build a native-feel solution in an environment that has no native paradigms. There are no form-factor standards on the web. They change constantly. The parallax scrolling page today is the multi-level DHTML drop-down of tomorrow.

    Stretching the canvas

    It is a daring and seemingly clever solution to go for canvas to reach good performance in an endless scrolling interface. But that’s all it is – a currently clever solution with a very short shelf-life. As Rachel Nabors put it:

    Re: recreating the DOM in canvas and accessibility: we will look back on this as a hack. Browsers will catch up, will render the DOM faster.

    When working on Firefox OS and low-end devices, the main issue just a few months ago was that canvas was too slow and people used the DOM instead and complained that it is the wrong API for games. The push was towards canvas to become hardware accelerated or – even better – mobile browsers to support WebGL. Now we have this and many a DOM solution using all kind of 3D transform tricks in CSS to force hardware accelerated layers look silly. Much like this might look silly very soon.

    The honest approach to this would be to give the article the title “How we created endless scrolling at 60 fps on high-end mobile devices by replacing the DOM with Canvas”. But that’s not as quotable and it doesn’t make you sound like a trailblazer solving a “real and very common” problem.

    Access denied

    Flipboard already admits that in terms of accessibility, this is a horrible solution. Screenreader availability aside, my warning bells went off when I saw elements with not only fixed positions on the screen but also fixed dimensions. And when you use a tool that supports text but means you need to calculate line breaks, I’d get a queasy feeling in my stomach. There goes resizing the font. There goes copying and pasting. There goes translating a text. All things the web is great at. And it is nothing new.

    Every single time we replaced text with graphics to gain more control we had to re-invent these basic features of a text-based web. Remember image replacement techniques of headlines before we had web fonts? Remember how Flash had to bend over backwards to seed the browser history and to make text highlight-able? Remember how it was impossible on mobile devices to copy and paste at all?

    When reading the section of the post about accessibility I get flashbacks to horrible times:

    This area needs further exploration. Using fallback content (the canvas DOM sub-tree) should allow screen readers such as VoiceOver to interact with the content. We’ve seen mixed results with the devices we’ve tested. Additionally there is a standard for focus management that is not supported by browsers yet.

    One approach that was raised by Bespin in 2009 is to keep a parallel DOM in sync with the elements rendered in canvas. We are continuing to investigate the right approach to accessibility.

    Wait a second. Re-read this, please, and tell me if I am crazy when I think this sounds like a lot of duct-tape around a leaking faucet.

    We have a perfectly accessible way of achieving all of this: we call it HTML and we have the DOM and the accessibility API. That way we’d have a perfectly working web site that gets found, indexed, is accessible to a lot of people. We can then convert into a fast performing canvas solution on mobile devices that are touch-enabled. We can test for that – web technology is good at that. Think about it: a data source that comes with lots of accessibility benefits and already has an API to read it in part? Sign me up.

    Instead we consider adding a lot of HTML content inside the canvas element as a fallback and hope browsers and assistive technology will do something with that.

    Content inside canvas becomes interesting when canvas isn’t supported. Today, that’s an almost non-existent use case. Browsers support canvas. It is a blank, stateless placeholder in the page that we paint on and wipe. It is an etch-a-sketch in the page. It isn’t even vector based – it is a dumb collection of pixels. That’s why canvas is fast – the Flipboard article does a good job explaining that.

    Canvas is to HTML5 what DIV and SPAN are to HTML4 - it has no semantic meaning. It is a placeholder for generated, visual content. Not text, not interactive elements. When canvas came to be, the first comments were that it is the new applet. And that is still quite a sensible way of describing it from a markup/semantic meaning angle. It is as much a black box in the page as Flash was to the rest of the markup.

    Replace the DOM, but not its virtues

    The problem with Flipboard’s solution to the mobile performance issue is that it wants to use canvas because of its stateless and high-performance nature and get all the benefits of HTML and the DOM at the same time. This is asking too much.

    We could, however, get quite a long way by creating our canvas content from HTML that is in the document. And that is what it means to build a web product – you build a sensible HTML solution first, and then use CSS and JavaScript to enhance it. That way you don’t need to worry about covering the basics after you fine-tuned the final product. That approach will always result in disappointing fallbacks that are hardly ever maintained.

    The “mobile web” thing

    The whole goal of this exercise was to match native performance by using web technology and applying ideas of native environments. And this is a thing we should be aware of. The mobile web.

    The issue is that according to this post and many others of the same ilk, the mobile web exists. The mobile web is not a technical thing – it is a misconception and one that is hard to match. Companies nowadays start with a native experience. This is where the short-term gain is. This is where the short-term high user numbers lie. This is the beautiful technology – the shiny devices, the backing from OS vendors and the exciting interaction models that come with the OS. It feels good, it feels that there is something to work with.

    Then these people hear about the benefits of web technologies: cross-platform support, lower cost of engineering as you don’t need to pay experts of red-hot new technologies, re-use across different form factors and so on. A lot of times this happens when the honeymoon period of the native solution is over and there is new growth to be unearthed.

    Then, they want both. Hence, “the mobile web”.

    We have two issues to battle with this: a technical problem and an image problem.

    Let’s talk technical first: matching the performance of a native app with a web app is a game the web can currently not win. At least not if all you count as performance is its fps speed and how well it integrates with the OS. The reason is that the cards are stacked against us. Unless the browser becomes the most important thing in a mobile OS, we will always have a hacky experience.

    To the OS vendor, the browser is a necessary thing to offer – another app much like the calculator or the phone app. From a marketing and monetary point of view, having people build exclusively for your platform with your tools and in your languages is a win-win. You have a captive audience and you can show their numbers in huge figures during your keynotes to your stakeholders. Making the browser amazing means you have to share.

    Add to this the ridiculous browser fragmentation and the amount of zombie browsers on older systems that will never get an update again and you will find that matching the newest and coolest of the native offering is really hard.

    The image problem is that the web seems stale. Our market thrives on hype and short term gains. All our messaging about the web is praising its longevity. What you do now means you will benefit in years to come, even if it means some extra work. Your products will be easy to maintain for years to come. Future technology will already support what you do now and it will be easy to extend if you use progressive enhancement. This is our messaging, and it is great messaging.

    Except when all you care about is the next month’s user and download numbers and how many people posted selfies and sent stickers to each other that you sold them. Then this message is just noise and sounds like arrogant “in my days” speeches.

    If we love the web and want it to work out, we need to pick our battles. And the real battle lies with operating systems not having a browser we can rely on. And with lack of support of very basic features we need to give an app experience across browsers and platforms. And with a lack of standards that really get to fruition and are implemented instead of being replaced by a library that is open source, but never leaves beta.

    The mobile web is real – and it isn’t. It is a dream of people who don’t get the nature of the web trying to harvest its benefits. And right now, these people get all the VC money and get the tech press excited as they promise something new. The hype as it is now is not sustainable. It killed these people once in the dotcom boom and will again – very soon.

    We can stomp our foot about that and get angry and we can repeat tiring old messages. Or we can bide our time and fix what is broken and keeps us from performing the way we want to. Let those who need the quick short-term win pretend they found the solution. Our time can be used differently. The amount of devices, form factors and user needs is not decreasing any time soon. The web can cover all of them. Let’s make that happen once the fever dream of the one true app form factor is over. Much like there is not one mode of transport to cover all needs, there is no such thing as a perfect app or interaction model.

    Jfokus2015 – My keynote, HTML5 talk, screencasts, slides and the resources I mentioned

    Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

    The last two days I spent at the waterfront conference center in Stockholm, Sweden attending Jfokus2015, Sweden’s biggest developer conference with 1,700 participants. To make this even scarier, I gave the opening keynote one day after joining a new company and a technical talk about HTML5 at a conference mostly frequented by Java developers.

    jfokus closing keynote and audience

    Jfokus is a big, seven track event. Many of the other talks covered frameworks, out-of-the-box solutions or big topics like smart homes, self-aware drones and other IOT matters. The organisation was very smooth and as it is the case with all Nordic events, the catering excellent.

    The keynote: you don’t need another hero app, you need one that survives the Thunderdome

    I was very humbled to hear that I’ve been chosen to give the opening keynote and I put a talk together that covers the current state of the app space and what developers can do to stay relevant in a world of declining install numbers and OS functionality takeovers.

    There’s a screencast of the keynote on YouTube.

    You can also read the keynote slides are on Slideshare

    Resources I used and mentioned in the keynote:

    HTML5 beyond the hype

    My second talk was about the current state of HTML5. My goal for this talk was not to dazzle and impress with great new technology and experimental features. Instead, I wanted to remind people how much we have available to us across browsers these days. A lot of very basic, but also very useful functionality of HTML5 and CSS3 is now safe to use. The hype around HTML5 at his inception and the subsequent disappointment when browsers didn’t support it immediately made us forget about these features. In this talk, I wanted to remind people of what can be used and how it could improve existing web solutions – even in the enterprise space.

    There’s a screencast of the HTML5 session to YouTube.

    Many people asked for the slide deck, so here it is on Slideshare

    The resources I covered in the talk are listed here, in case you want to follow up with them:

    All in all, I very much enjoyed my time at Jfokus. The organisation is very efficient, it was fun to talk to people and good to see that me joining a big company didn’t change much the way people approached me. I hope I managed to inspire some people to play with tech they have not before and to tell their bosses about things their companies should be doing.

    On towards my next challenge…

    Thursday, January 29th, 2015

    One of the things I like where I live in London is my doctor. He is this crazy German who lived for 30 years in Australia before coming to England. During my checkup he speaks a mixture of German, Yiddish, Latin and English and has a dark sense of humour.

    He also does one thing that I have massive respect for: he never treats my symptoms and gives me quick acting remedies. Instead he digs and analyses until he found the cause of them and treats that instead. Often this means I suffer longer from ill effects, but it also means that I leave with the knowledge of what caused the problem. I don’t just get products pushed in my face to make things easier and promises of a quick recovery. Instead, I get pulled in to become part of the healing process and to own my own health in the long run. This is a bad business decision for him as giving me more short-acting medication would mean I come back more often. What it means to me though is that I have massive respect for him, as he has principles.

    Professor X to Magneto: If you know you can deflect it, you are not really challenging yourself

    As you know if you read this blog, I left Mozilla and I am looking for a new job. As you can guess, I didn’t have to look long and hard to find one. We are superbly, almost perversely lucky as people in IT right now. We can get jobs easily compared to other experts and markets.

    Hard to replace: Mozilla

    Leaving Mozilla was ridiculously hard for me. I came to Mozilla to stay. I loved meeting people during my interviews who’ve been there for more than eight years – an eternity in our market. I loved the products, I am still madly in love with the manifesto and the work that is going on. A lot changed in the company though and the people I came for left one by one and got replaced by people with other ideals and ideas. This can be a good thing. Maybe this is the change the company needs.
    I didn’t want to give up on these ideals. I didn’t want to take a different job where I have to promote a product by all means. I didn’t want to be in a place that does a lot of research, builds impressive looking tools and solutions but also discards them when they aren’t an immediate success. I wanted to find a place where I can serve the web and make a difference in the lives of those who build things for the web. In day to day products. Not in a monolithic product that tries to be the web.

    Boredom on the bleeding edge

    My presentations in the last year had a re-occuring theme. We can not improve the web if we don’t make it easy and reliable for everybody building things on it to take part in our innovations. Only a tiny amount of the workers of the web can use alpha or beta solutions. Even fewer can rely on setting switches in browsers or use prefixed functionality that might change on a whim. Many of us have to deliver products that are much more strict. Products that have to adhere to non-sensical legal requirements.

    These people have a busy job, and they want to make it work. Often they have to cut corners. In many other cases they rely on massive libraries and frameworks that promise magical solutions. This leads to products that are in a working state, and not in an enjoyable state.

    To make the web a continuous success, we need to clean it up. No innovation and no framework will replace the web, its very nature makes that impossible. What we need to do now is bring our bleeding edge knowledge of what means well performing and maintainable code down the line to those who do not attend every conference or spend days on Hacker News and Stack Overflow.

    And the winner is…

    This is why I answered a job offer I got and I will start working on the 2nd of February for a new company. The company is *drumroll*:

    Microsoft. Yes, the bane of my existence as a standards protagonist during the dark days of the first browser wars. Just like my doctor, I am going to the source of a lot of our annoyances and will do my best to change the causes instead of fighting the symptoms.

    My new title is “Senior Program Manager” in the Developer experience and evangelism org of Microsoft. My focus is developer outreach. I will do the same things I did at Mozilla: JavaScript, Open Web Technologies and cross-browser support.

    Professor X to Magneto: you know, I've always found the real focus to be in between rage and serenity

    Frankly, I am tired of people using “But what about Internet Explorer” as an excuse. An excuse to not embrace or even look into newer, sensible and necessary technology. At the same time I am bored of people praising experimental technology in “modern browsers” as a must. Best practices have to prove themselves in real products with real users. What’s great for building Facebook or GMail doesn’t automatically apply to any product on the web. If we want a standards-based web to survive and be the go-to solution for new developers we need to change. We can not only invent, we also need to clean up and move outdated technology forward. Loving and supporting the web should be unconditional. Warts and all.

    A larger audience who needs change…

    I’ve been asking for more outreach from the web people “in the know” to enterprise users. I talked about a lack of compassion for people who have to build “boring” web solutions. Now I am taking a step and will do my best to try to crack that problem. I want to have a beautiful web in all products I use, not only new ones. I’ve used enough terrible ticketing systems and airline web sites. It is time to help brush up the web people have to use rather than want to use.

    This is one thing many get wrong. People don’t use Chrome over Firefox or other browsers because of technology features. These are more or less on par with another. They chose Chrome as it gives them a better experience with Google’s services. Browsers in 2015 are not only about what they can do for developers. It is more important how smooth they are for end users and how well they interact with the OS.

    I’ve been annoyed for quite a while about the Mac/Chrome centric focus of the web development community. Yes, I use them both and I am as much to blame as the next person. Fact is though, that there are millions of users of Windows out there. There are a lot of developers who use Windows, too. The reason is that that’s what their company provides them with and that is what their clients use. It is arrogant and elitist to say we change the web and make the lives of every developer better when our tools are only available for a certain platform. That’s not the world I see when I travel outside London or the Silicon Valley.

    We’re in a time of change as Alex Wilhelm put it on Twitter:

    Microsoft is kinda cool again, Apple is boring, Google is going after Yahoo on Firefox, and calculator watches are back. Wtf is going on.

    What made me choose

    In addition to me pushing myself to fix one of the adoption problems of new web technologies from within there were a few more factors that made this decision the right one for me:

    • The people – my manager is my good friend and former Ajaxian co-writer Rey Bango. You might remember us from the FoxIE HTML5 training video series. Rey and me on the beach My first colleague in this team is also someone who I worked with on several open projects and got massive respect for.
    • The flexibility – I am a remote worker. I work from London, Stockholm, or wherever I need to be. This is becoming a rare occasion and many offers I got started with “you need to move to the Silicon Valley”. Nope, I work on the web. We all could. I have my own travel budget. I propose where I am going to present. And I will be in charge of defining, delivering and measuring the developer outreach program.
    • The respect – every person who interviewed me was on time, prepared and had real, job related problems for me to solve. There was no “let me impress you with my knowledge and ask you a thing you don’t know”. There was no “Oh, I forgot I needed to interview you right now” and there was no confusion about who I am speaking to and about what. I loved this. and in comparison to other offers it was refreshing. We all are open about our actions and achievements as developers. If you interview someone you have no clue about then you didn’t do your research as an interviewer. I interviewed people as much as they interviewed me and the answers I got were enlightening. There was no exaggerated promises and they scrutinised everything I said and discussed it. When I made a mistake, I got a question about it instead of letting me show off or talk myself into a corner.
    • The organisation – there is no question about how much I earn, what the career prospects are, how my travels and expenses will work and what benefits I get. These things are products in use and not a Wiki page where you could contact people if you want to know more.
    • The challenge – the Windows 10 announcement was interesting. Microsoft is jumping over its own shadow with the recent changes, and I am intrigued about making this work.

    I know there might be a lot of questions, so feel free to contact me if you have any concerns, or if you want to congratulate me.


    • Does this mean you will not be participating in open communication channels and open source any longer?

      On the contrary. I am hired to help Microsoft understand the open source world and play a bigger part in it. I will have to keep some secrets until a certain time. That will also be a re-occuring happening. But that is much the same for anyone working in Google, Samsung, Apple or any other company. Even Mozilla has secrets now, this is just how some markets work. I will keep writing for other channels, I will write MDN docs, be active on GitHub and applaud in public when other people do great work. I will also be available to promote your work. All I publish will be open source or Creative Commons. This blog will not be a Microsoft blog. This is still me and will always remain me.

    • Will you now move to Windows with all your computing needs?

      No, like every other person who defends open technology and freedom I will keep using my Macintosh. (There might be sarcasm in this sentence, and a bit of guilt). I will also keep my Android and Firefox OS phones. I will of course get Windows based machinery as I am working on making those better for the web.

    • Will you now help me fix all my Internet Explorer problems when I complain loud enough on Twitter?


    • What does this mean to your speaking engagements and other public work?

      Not much. I keep picking where I think my work is needed the most and my terms and conditions stay the same. I will keep a strict separation of sponsoring events and presenting there (no pay to play). I am not sure how sponsorship requests work, but I will find out soon and forward requests to the right people.

    • What about your evangelism coaching work like the Mozilla Evangelism Reps and various other groups on Facebook and LinkedIn?

      I will keep my work up there. Except that the Evangelism Reps should have a Mozilla owner. I am not sure what should happen to this group given the changes in the company structure. I’ve tried for years to keep this independent of me and running smoothly without my guidance and interference. Let’s hope it works out.

    • Will you tell us now to switch to Internet Explorer / Spartan?

      No. I will keep telling you to support standards and write code that is independent of browser and environment. This is not about peddling a product. This is about helping Microsoft to do the right thing and giving them a voice that has a good track record in that regard.

    • Can we now get endless free Windows hardware from you to test on?

      No. Most likely not. Again, sensible requests I could probably forward to the right people

    So that’s that. Now let’s fix the web from within and move a bulk of developers forward instead of preaching from an ivory tower of “here is how things should be”.

    Where would people like to see me – some interesting answers

    Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

    Will code for Bananas

    For pure Shits and Giggles™ I put up a form yesterday asking people where I should try to work now that I left Mozilla. By no means I have approached all the companies I listed (hence an “other” option). I just wanted to see what people see me as and where I could do some good work. Of course, some of the answers disagreed and made a lot of assumptions:

    Your ego knows no bounds. Putting companies that have already turned you down is very special behavior.

    This is utterly true. I applied at Yahoo in 1997 and didn’t get the job. I then worked at Yahoo for almost five years a few years later. I should not have done that. Companies don’t change and once you have a certain skillset there is no way you could ever learn something different that might make yourself appealing to others. Know your place, and all that.

    Sarcasm aside, I am always amazed how lucky we are to have choices in our market. There is not a single day I am not both baffled and very, very thankful for being able to do what I like and make a living with it. I feel like a fraud many a time, and I know many other people who seemingly have a “big ego” doing the same. The trick is to not let that stop you but understand that it makes you a better person, colleague and employee. We should strive to get better all the time, and this means reaching beyond what you think you can achieve.

    I’m especially flattered that people thought I had already been contacted by all the companies I listed and asked for people to pick for me. I love working in the open, but that’s a bit too open, even for my taste. I am not that lucky – I don’t think anybody is.

    The answers were pretty funny, and of course skewed as I gave a few options rather than leaving it completely open. The final “wish of the people list” is:

    • W3C (108 votes)
    • Canonical (39 votes)
    • Microsoft (38 votes)
    • Google (37 votes)
    • Facebook (14 votes)
    • Twitter (9 votes)
    • Mozilla (7 votes)
    • PubNub (26 votes)

    Pubnub’s entries were having exceedingly more exclamation points the more got submitted – I don’t know what happened there.

    Other options with multiple votes were Apple, Adobe, CozyCloud, EFF, Futurice, Khan Academy, Opera, Spotify (I know who did that!) and the very charming “Retirement”.

    Options labeled “fascinating” were:

    • A Circus
    • Burger King (that might still be a problem as I used to work on McDonalds.co.uk – might be a conflict of interest)
    • BangBros (no idea what that might be – a Nintendo Game?)
    • Catholic Church
    • Derick[SIC] Zoolander’s School for kids who can’t read good
    • Kevin Smith’s Movie
    • “Pizza chef at my local restaurant” (I was Pizza delivery guy for a while, might be possible to level up)
    • Playboy (they did publish Fahrenheit 451, let’s not forget that)
    • Taco Bell (this would have to be remote, or a hell of a commute)
    • The Avengers (I could be persuaded, but it probably will be an advisory role, Tony Stark style)
    • UKIP (erm, no, thanks)
    • Zombocom and
    • Starbucks barista. (this would mean I couldn’t go to Sweden any longer – they really like their coffee and Starbucks is seen as the Antichrist by many)

    Some of the answers were giving me super powers I don’t have but show that people would love to have people like me talk to others outside the bubble more:

    • “NASA” (I really, really think I have nothing they need)
    • “A book publisher (they need help to move into the 21st century)”
    • “Data.gov or another country’s open data platform.” (did work with that, might re-visit it)
    • “GCHQ; Be the bridge between our worlds”
    • “Spanish Government – Podemos CTO” (they might realise I am not Spanish)
    • “any bank for a11y online banking :-/”

    Some answers showed a need to vent:

    • “Anything but Google or Facebook for God sake!”
    • “OK, and option 2: perhaps Twitter? You might improve their horrible JS code in the website! ;)”

    The most confusing answers were “My butthole” which sounds cramped and not a creative working environment and “Who are you?” which begs the answer “Why did you fill this form?”.

    Many of the answers showed a lot of trust in me and made me feel all warm and fuzzy and I want to thank whoever gave those:

    • be CTO of awesome startup
    • Enjoy life Chris!
    • Start something of your own. You rock too hard, anyway!
    • you were doing just fine. choose the one where your presence can be heard the loudest. cheers!
    • you’ve left Mozilla for something else, so you are jobless for a week or so! :-)
    • Yourself then hire me and let me tap your Dev knowledge :D

    I have a new job, I am starting on Monday and I will announce in probably too much detail here on Thursday. Thanks for everyone who took part in this little exercise. I have an idea what I need to do in my new job, and these ideas listed and the results showed me that I am on the right track.

    Browsers, Services and the OS – oh my…

    Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

    Yesterday’s two hour Windows 10 briefing by Microsoft had some very interesting things in it (The Verge did a great job live blogging it). I was waiting for lots of information about the new browser, code name Spartan, but most was about Windows 10 itself. This is, of course, understandable and shows that I care about browsers maybe too much. There was interesting information about Windows 10 being a free upgrade, Cortana integration on all platforms, streaming games from xbox to Windows and vice versa. The big wow factor at the end of the brief was HoloLens, which makes interactivity like Iron Man had in his lab not that far-fetched any longer.

    hololens working

    For me, however, the whole thing was a bit of an epiphany about browsers. I’ve always seen browsers as my main playground and got frustrated by lack of standards support across them. I got annoyed by users not upgrading to new ones or companies making that hard. And I was disappointed by developers having their pet browsers to support and demand people to use the same. What I missed out on was how amazing browsers themselves have become as tools for end users.

    For end users the browser is just another app. The web is not the thing alongside your computing interaction any longer, it is just a part of it. Just because I spend most of my day in the browser doesn’t make it the most important thing. In esssence, the interaction of the web and the hardware you have is what is the really interesting part.

    A lot of innovation I have seen over the years that was controversial at that time or even highly improbable is now in phones and computers we use every day. And we don’t really appreciate it. Google Now, Siri and now Microsoft’s Cortana integration into the whole system is amazingly useful. Yes, it is also a bit creepy and there should be more granular insight into what gets crawled and what isn’t. But all in all isn’t it incredible that computers tell us about upcoming flights, traffic problems and remind us about things we didn’t even explicitly set as a reminder?

    Spartan Demo screenshot by the verge

    The short, 8 minute Spartan demo in the briefing showed some incredible functionality:

    • You can annotate web page with a stylus, mouse or add comments to any part of the text
    • You can then collect these, share them with friends or watch them offline later
    • Reading mode turns the web into a one-column, easy to read version. Safari, Mobile browsers like Firefox Mobile have this and third party services like Readability did that before.
    • Firefox’s awesome bar and Chrome’s Google Now integration also is in Windows with Cortana being available anywhere in the browser.

    Frankly, not all of that is new, but I have never used these features. I was too bogged down into what browsers can not do instead of checking what is already possible for normal users.

    I’ve mentioned this a few times in talks lately: a lot of the innovation of add-ons, apps and products is merging with our platforms. Where in the past it was a sensible idea to build a weather app and expect people to go there or even pay for it, we get this kind of functionality with our platforms. This is great for end users, but it means we have to be up to speed what user interfaces of the platforms look like these days instead of assuming we need to invent all the time.

    Looking at this functionality made me remember a lot of things promised in the past but never really used (at least by me or my surroundings):

    • Back in 2001, Microsoft introduced Smart Tags, which caused quite a stir in the writing community as it allows third party commenting on your web content without notifying you. Many a web site added the MSSmartTagsPreventParsing to disallow this. The annotation feature of Spartan now is this on steroids. Thirdvoice (wayback machine archive) was a browser add-on that did the same, but got creepy very quickly by offering you things to buy. Weirdly enough Awesome Screenshot, an annotation plug-in also now gets very creepy by offering you price comparisons for your online shopping. This shows that a functionality like that doesn’t seem to be viable as a stand-alone business model, but very much makes sense as a feature of the platform.
    • Back in 2006, Ray Ozzie of Microsoft at eTech introduced the idea of the Live Clipboard. It was this:
      [Live Clipboard…] allows the copy and pasting of data, including dynamic, updating data, across and between web applications and desktop applications.
      The big thing about this was that it would have been an industrial size use case for Microformats and could have given that idea the boost it needed. However, despite me pestering Chris Wilson of – then – Microsoft at @media AJAX 2006 about it, this never took off. Until now, it seems – except that the clippings aren’t live.
    • When I worked in Yahoo, Browser Plus came out of a hackday, an extension to browsers that allows easier file uploads and drag and drop between browser and OS. It also gave you Desktop notifications. One of the use cases shown at the hack day was to drag and drop products from several online stores and then checkout in one step with all of them. This, still, is not possible. I’d wager to guess that legal problems and tax reasons are the main blocker there. Drag and Drop and uploads as well as Desktop notifications are now reality without add-ons. So we’re getting there.

    This year will be very exciting. Not only does HTML5 and JavaScript get new features all the time. It seems to me that browsers become much, much smoother at integrating into our daily lives. This spells doom for a lot of apps. Why use an app when the functionality is already available with a simple click or voice command?

    Of course, there are still many issues to fix, mainly offline and slow connection use cases. Privacy and security is another problem. Convenient as it is, there should be some way to know what is listening in on me right now and where the data goes. But, I for one am very interested about the current integration of services into the browser and the browser into the OS.