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How the browser roundhouse-kicked Chuck Norris

It struck me this week. Browsers nowadays are so kick-ass that they outdo Chuck Norris’s badassness. The current momentum of skyrocketing browsergoodness can’t even be surpassed by Holland winning the worldcup next Sunday. Or perhaps it can, but let’s have a look anyway at where browsers are today shall we? Pure for the the sake of the great joyride that we’re in for when going retro.

Chuck Norris showing off his badassness.

Chuck Norris showing off his badassness.

In short

The era of e-solutions died along with Web 1.0, Web 2.0 has past, along came AJAX, here we are now in the midst of a worldwide HTML5 / CSS3 party and it ain’t over till the fat lady tweets. There’s cloud computing everywhere, desktop tasks shifting online, more sharing options than all of Justin Bieber’s followers can throw a stick at and the only things Facebook and Twitter won’t get you into is your car. LG is right: Life’s good.

Internet Explorer

Back in 1998 Microsoft was sued over misusing their monopoly by shipping Internet Explorer along with Windows 95. Bill Gates explained how IE was so tightly integrated in the OS ecosystem that it wasn’t possible to separate the two. Even though tools like nLite have long proven this to be technically false for Windows 95′s successors, they were inseparable at the time. By design that is.

Internet Explorer 4

Internet Explorer 4

It killed Netscape and allowed Microsoft to push new ideas to market such as the XMLHttpRequest, ContentEditable and filters like shadows, gradients and opacity. Proprietary or not, remember that we’re talking last century technology here. Sure, the barndoor transition didn’t make it but their critiqued approach of adding non-standard features stimulated innovation for the benefit of users all around the globe, making IE the best browser experience there was for web apps considering the timeframe and competition. You could rely on it to work and due to its native ActiveX rendering on Windows it was fast as lightning.

And let’s not forget: IE wasn’t Windows only! Because of a five-year agreement between Microsoft and Apple, a special IE unit was doing a more-than-excellent job on IE for the Mac. It was even considered being superior to the Windows version, so when Microsoft pulled the plug it was officially because Apple had begun working on Safari around 2002, though rumors are that IE-for-Mac was outperforming its Windows counterpart.

The need for standards

With Steve Jobs at the helm of Apple, Macs became a more prominent alternative to the Windows desktop at homes and offices, and along with the choice of platform came demand for choice of the browser. Firefox bursting out of the Mozilla Suite couldn’t have happened at a better time, and with more browser vendors upping the ante, standards were demanded. Enter W3C.

Knights of the Rounded Corners

The W3C turned into the Knights of the Rounded Corners as they fulfilled the role as keeper of requested markup and styling features. Working drafts guided innovation and vice versa, and Microsoft’s critiqued approach of adding proprietary implementations was now deemed perfectly normal as vendors were pushing fancyness ranging from -moz-marching-ants, -webkit-flood-my-floor to -o-my-goodness. And don’t we love it all.

In the meantime, standardization lemmings threw rectangle “W3C Valid” badges in the face of their visitors, sometimes on websites implemented with alt texts on spacer gifs and tables for layout.

Visitors don't care.

Visitors don't care.

Standards didn’t always lead to quality, and W3C bet their money on XHTML and lost. Luckily for us, WHATWG stood up and said

“XML is not the way to go. HTML is. Let’s build what we actually need.”

HTML5

HTML5 is the result, and it is far more than markup. It is the reality of HTML, CSS and Javascript taking over parts of what the OS has done for us all these years. Beyond new markup, native media, canvas and microformats there’s application-level support like local storage, multithreading web workers and sockets that have noting to do with HTML as a markup language anymore. It allows the browser to become our new operating system.

HP acquired Palm for WebOS just a few days ago and it made me think about all the above. It’s a wise decision, and I also can’t wait to see what what Chrome OS will do.

If it is as good as the standalone browser counterpart it’s going to be pure awesome and I can’t wait to get my hands on the first tablet running it. And the great thing is that so many apps have proven to be better on the web than on the desktop. Here at Q42 we dropped Microsoft Office over Google Apps years ago and we wish we had done so much earlier.

Quplo’s perspective

How is this relevant for Quplo? Well, Quplo lives inside the browser and that wasn’t possible a few years ago. I can’t even remember what we were thinking when we had the Visual-Studio-Dot-Net-Requiring-Downloadable-Installer in mind. If there is one lesson I have learned it’s this:

If you’re going to build an app, ask yourself if there is any reason not to make it browser based.

We made the call almost halfway in the process but I’m still glad we did. Considering the history of events mentioned above in terms of browser innovations, the future is an interesting and appealing one and it’s probably going to affect Quplo in many positive ways.

Next week we’ll go live and I’m thrilled that we are. But for now,┬álet’s hear it for the browser!

Hip Hip Hooray!

3 Comments

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  • Isn’t Chuck Norris is the end of all things (he’s the last number of pi according to his Tweets: http://twitter.com/chucknorriz)? That would be voodoo if browsers could outdo Chuck Norris :)

    But seriously, these are truly exciting times for web application development.

    The web-app working group is even addressing the issue that wep-apps can work offline (so I can search my mail when internet is down, for example).

    Now all we need is a programming language that also supports building large scale web-apps. Native browser support for Python? Or better Scala (http://www.scala-lang.org/)…

    It is crazy that we have to compile a non-compiled language in order to compile out comments and create a single file build, which all to often is too large to debug, and all to often contains code that will never be used in the application pulling in the Javascript. Brendan Eich had great plans for Javascript (https://developer.mozilla.org/presentations/xtech2006/javascript/), but many of his ideas never made it into the language.

    I was just reading up on CSS3 and saw that it support variables. Finally!

    Let’s end on a positive note: Browsers today can do amazing things and for a lot of apps making them browser based makes a lot of sense. The quplo lesson definitely applies IMHO.

    by Edwin Commandeur • Jul 9th 2010 • 08:07

  • Love the article. A few additions. Microsoft also used their Windows agreements with Desktop PC vendors to ensure that Dell and HP were not allowed to ship Netscape’s browser pre-installed with their PC’s. Only Gateway of the major PC makers still shipped Netscape with their desktops. That was a move that cost them plenty wrt co-marketing and technical collaboration.

    http://www.justice.gov/atr/cases/f3800/msjudgex.htm#vf

    Also, it was a condition of Microsoft’s agreement to keep creating a version of Microsoft Office for Apple that IE be the default browser shipped with Mac for a period of years. This is documented in the DoJ case files (fascinating reads btw.)

    http://www.justice.gov/atr/cases/f2000/2010.htm#8

    “The pressures exerted by Microsoft compelled Apple to resolve the dispute on terms that gave significant advantages to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. On August 5, 1997, Apple agreed to a Technology Agreement with Microsoft that included the following basic elements. First, Apple agreed to bundle Internet Explorer on all Macintosh computers and Mac OS operating systems for five years. Apple also agreed to make the Internet Explorer the default browser on all Mac OS systems. Although Apple can bundle other browser programs with the Mac OS, it is prohibited from promoting any browser other than Internet Explorer. The agreement states that all other browsers must be stored inside a folder; this means that Apple cannot allow any browser that competes with Internet Explorer to appear on the desktop. The Technology Agreement also gives Microsoft the right of first refusal to develop the default browser for any new operating system Apple develops during the term of the agreement.”

    by Michael Mullany • Jul 9th 2010 • 20:07

  • Hey Michael,

    Yeah, behind the scenes there was probably a lot of stuff going on that doesn’t sound too kosher today. Thankfully today’s browser market seems to be more under control of the geeks than the marketing crews of the 90s (I hope).

    Funny to see that a company like Apple occupies a completely different position of power compared to 1997. The landscape changes fast!

    by Rahul • Jul 14th 2010 • 09:07

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