Buzz Archive: April 2005

Acid2 Goes on Safari

Yesterday Dave Hyatt posted news that Safari now passes the Acid2 test, making it the first browser to do so.

Patches to enable Acid2 related support have been made available in Hyatt’s announce post, linked above.

Under the circumstances, I thought it would be unfair to simply announce the news, so I sent off a few questions and received the following in reply.

BH: When will the patches you released yesterday be merged into a general release?

DH: I’m sorry, but I really couldn’ even guess. At the moment we’re just concentrating on an update that fixes regressions/crashes. I don’t know yet what the update situation is going to be like.

BH: Do you expect that the Konqueror team will merge your changes into their product anytime soon?

DH: Yes, they expressed interest already in seeing the patches. I wouldn’t be surprised if theirs is the first browser to ship a version that passes the test. :)

BH: Looking at the Acid2 test from a software engineer’s perspective, what were your biggest challenges in getting Safari to pass?

DH: Well, the great thing about KHTML is that nothing in the test was that hard to implement. Safari was actually already really close (despite the rendering in 1.3). The bugs were either just missing minor features, like <object> support and min-/max- -width/-height on positioned elements, or minor details, such as slightly better handling of percentage values that end up not being used.

BH: More broadly, what are the biggest engineering challenges you see with moving onto CSS3 support in future browsers?

DH: I think doing vertical text could be incredibly difficult, since KHTML is not designed for that at all.

BH: How useful is the feedback you’ve gotten from web developers and Safari end users, and how can that feedback be made still more useful?

DH: ...Immensely useful. Web developers catch some of the most important bugs and write very clear and concise reductions of the problems. That makes the bugs really easy to fix quickly.

We want to extend a thank-you to Hyatt and the Safari team for jumping on the test so quickly, and another to the web developers who have helped to make this first success happen.

Browser Progress

IE team member Chris Wilson has posted about a couple of new developments in IE7: support for alpha-transparent PNG images and fixing a few of the bizarre float-related rendering bugs in Trident, the rendering engine used in IE 4+ for Windows.

It's a good start, and happily puts to rest persistent rumors that IE7 would be strictly a security-and-UI-features release. Yea Chris Wilson!

Elsewhere, Safari developer Dave Hyatt is within a few object tags of passing the Acid2 test. Looks like WaSP Dean Edward's faith in Dave's efforts was well-placed. Yea Dave Hyatt!

Whither Adobe's SVG Efforts?

What does Adobe's purchase of Macromedia mean for Adobe's SVG efforts? The FAQ (PDF) on the acquisition has this to say:

How does this affect Adobe's support of SVG (scalable vector graphics)?

Both Adobe and Macromedia have been involved in defining SVG and both were part of the W3C working group that defined SVG. The combined company will continue to work with customers and partners to define a future roadmap for our products.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, is it?

Adobe, 'Rich Internet Applications' and Standards

Adobe's impending purchase of Macromedia has fueled no end of speculation on the fate of now-redundant applications and hand-wringing over the impact of the acquisition on popular Macromedia applications, not to mention the loss of competition in the space. But all that's really a sideshow. The meat of the story is what this means for what Macromedia terms 'rich internet applications', and for the future of web standards in the space.

Adobe has established their PostScript-based PDF as a de facto standard for creating electronic documents in situations where the mutability of HTML isn't necessarily desirable, such as when 'soft proofing' a document destined for print or when distributing documents like court decisions where textual integrity is paramaount. But there's another class of documents where Adobe hasn't been so successful: forms requiring data entry. While PDF works well for print-and-complete style forms, Adobe hasn't had much success wooing organizations that wish to have recipients complete and submit forms online. Truth to tell, no one vendor really has — though it's not for lack of trying.

Pre-web, printed forms was a huge industry. Organisations required printed paper order forms, expense reports, requisition forms, employee evaluations, application forms — you name it. Supplying these forms became an industry unto itself. One of my first jobs was working with a printer who specialized in short-run jobs the giant forms printers of the day couldn't run profitably. Today those large forms printers are virtually extinct, and my former employer is carrying on as a niche player. A once-proud industry has been effectively reduced to rubble, and IT &mdash particularly the web &mdash is the reason.

Organizations have discovered that electronic forms save not only printing costs, but can save time and money by helping recipients enter data accurately through effective UIs and validation of the input. As a result, many paper forms have been converted to online applications built with everything from Filemaker to Lotus Notes to good ol' HTML.

'Electronic forms' are big business, and a host of companies have been fighting for a piece of it. Former forms printing heavyweight Amgraf has been working on the market since the mid-1990s. Microsoft's Office applications, particularly Excel, Access, Outlook and Word have long been de facto players in this space, and more recently Microsoft have addressed the problem specifically with InfoPath. The W3C's xForms targets this space too, as does WHATWG's Web Forms 2.0. But the most widely-used solution is good old HTML.

Macromedia has come at the space from the other direction. Their Flash technology has grown from an animation and vector illustration format into a technology for developing sophisticated GUIs. Here, they compete with the likes of the Mozilla Foundation's XUL and XBL, Sun Microsystems' Java and Microsoft's Windows Forms. Other players include WHATWG's Web Applications 1.0 and Web Controls 1.0, the W3C's SVG and soon Microsoft's XAML. Recently, the-technologies-formerly-known-as-DHTML have also resurfaced as a viable option under the Ajax moniker.

As document-centric electronic forms solutions like PDF begin to offer sophisticated UI and validation capabilities, and rich internet application technologies become easier to develop and more flexible in their presentation, the two are increasingly competing head-to-head. By acquiring Macromedia and their Flash technology, Adobe has positioned themselves on both sides of the competition with the document-centric PDF and the 'rich UI'-centric SWF It's a classic pincer maneuver, though with such heavyweights as IBM, Microsoft, SAP and Sun in the middle one could be forgiven for wondering who's surrounding who.

From a standards perspective, both Adobe and Macromedia have pledged — and delivered — increasing levels of support for web standards in their web authoring tools (GoLive and Dreamweaver, respectively). I don't see any reason to expect that will change. Where rich UIs are concerned, however, the situation is less hopeful.

Adobe has long dabbled with SVG, adding SVG export to Illustrator and the ill-fated LiveMotion animation package as well as offering an SVG Viewer plug-in for browsers. SVG has carved out a solid niche in the mobile space, but on the desktop Macromedia's SWF rules the roost — recent efforts to add native SVG support to Opera and Mozilla notwithstanding. But as this otherwise-flawed* C|Net article points out, Adobe's previously standards-centric approach to rich internet applications is in direct competition with their newly-acquired Flash technology.

While I don't expect Adobe to drop SVG straightaway, if only to hedge their bets, it seems foolish to think Adobe will pursue it with anywhere near the same enthusiasm they have in the past. After all, if they had faith in the endeavor why would they bother purchasing the technology's primary competitor?

Right now, it's far too early to say who or what will come to dominate the RIA space. PDF and SWF have an early lead in document-centric and presentation-centric areas. SVG is looking strong in the mobile space. Microsoft's XAML will no doubt be a strong player as well, if only due to a potential installed base rivaled only by the PDF+SWF. With IT heavyweights like IBM and SAP behind it, xForms is also hard to count out, and the most-used option at present is plain old HTML, wether enhanced by ECMAScript, CSS and the DOM or not.

In the end, I doubt any one technology will dominate completely. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. The question is whether those left standing will be owned and controlled by one company or will be free and open. And that's a decision that will ultimately be made by end users and developers — us, in other words.

Interesting times indeed.

* The article characterizes Adobe's GoLive as 'ill-fated' but supports the assertion with a link to an article announcing the discontinuation of the LiveMotion animation app. In fact, while GoLive hasn't posed much of a threat to Macromedia's Dreamweaver, it has attracted a loyal following. As well, the article claims Macromedia introduced FreeHand as a response to Adobe Illustrator, when in fact FreeHand was acquired by Macromedia in the early '90s when Adobe purchased Aldus, FreeHand's original developer.

Acid2: Putting Browser Makers on Notice

Those with long memories will remember ABBA. The rest of us may just about recall the good work of the CSS Samurai when they launched the Acid Test back in 1997 and challenged makers of browsers world-over to improve their support for CSS 1.

Well, dammit, we're at it again. No, not the Swedish song and dance routines, the bit about the browsers. Acid2 is a brand new test designed to push the limits of HTML, CSS, and PNG support in browsers and authoring tools. By testing against Acid2, flaws in support for common web standards are quickly and easily exposed.

Read the official press release for the full skinny. I promise it has no mention of camptastic European supergroups.

Early feedback is coming in from the likes of Safari developer Dave Hyatt over at Apple. In his blog entry on the subject, Dave states:

I started work today on making Safari pass the test, and I thought I'd blog my progress as I fix bugs in the test. This will be a fairly slow process as whole features may have to be added simply to make one row of the test render correctly.

For those using Safari, I have fixed two bugs so far...

That's great news for Safari users, and we look forward to receiving feedback from those working on other browsers and tools in due time.

Penn State Adopts Policy

News from Pennsylvania State University, New Web Policy to Affect all of Penn State's Public Web Sites, gives a target date of August 15, 2005 for compliance to standards, guidelines, and accessibility. Major changes to the web policy were the result of consultation with the Faculty Senate, Web developers and designers, and administrators.

Penn State's Policy AD54 Web Page Design and Image lists these changes and offers up additional resources and information. The Recommendations and Guidelines section outlines using current best practices and validation to standards. A Web Review Committee will monitor and review Penn State's Web sites and Web pages for accessibility and standards compliance. To help with the change, Penn State offers up several resources including template options for content pages, tips and hints for creating accessible content, and contact methods for further help.

Congratulations to all those involved with the new policy changes at Penn State. You have addressed web standards and have outlined a plan for change.

Happy Anniversary, MACCAWS

April 2, 2005 marks the one year anniversary (our 2004 Buzz) of documents published by the project team at Making A Commercial Case for Adopting Web Standards (MACCAWS).

The publications are part of a Kit consisting of a standards primer and a technical white paper. These documents are currently available in English and French, and are in the process of being translated into Spanish and Japanese. An Italian version will be available shortly.

The kit documents:

Welcoming More WaSPs

There are a couple of new WaSPs trying out their wings. As mentioned in a previous post, there are actually quite a few things happening in the background with the Web Standards Project, and for that we need committed and skilled people. Two such people are Andy Clarke (aka Stuff and Nonsense/All That Malarkey) and Dean Edwards (who came up with an IE 7 while Microsoft were happily taking a rest on their proverbial laurels). As fellow Brits (I confess, I had no idea Dean was a Londoner!) it's a pleasure to officially welcome them to the fold and I know that I speak for all the other WaSPs when I say that I'm looking forward to working with them on our happy little cause.

Global Style

CSS Zen Garden has been the inspiration for similar projects in other languages:

Also worth a look:

All of these links were found at the W3C Cascading Style Sheet web page, thanks to Bert Bos, and the CSS news section. Visit often to see new listings of resources, tools, and information on the topic of Cascading Style Sheets.