A browser is more than script

Chrome released on Linux, and IE8 released from beta. Now people are beginning to question Firefox’s increasingly bigger piece of the blogger pie. Case in point, PC World.

Mozilla have several grand aims, and there’s much to be admired, but they’ve forgotten how to make a decent browser. I feel plenty of loyalty for them, because they’ve done more than anybody else to further the cause of open source software in the real world. But when I tried Chrome, as incomplete as it was, I realized I’d found a replacement for Firefox. As soon as it gets to beta under Linux, I will switch to Chrome. No question. It’s just infinitely better. It’s like when we all switched from Alta Vista (or Yahoo!) to Google back in the early noughties. The king is dead! Long live the king!

I was asked my opinion about the future of JavaScript applications this week, especially in light of the blazingly fast Chrome. I was rather surprised at the emphasis on JavaScript, because a browser is more than just a machine to consume script. A browser must also render a web page, as the designers built her; must display photographs accurately, hopefully using any photographer supplied profiles; to render the more complex SVG, in addition to the simpler Canvas; to handle complex file types, including video files, not to mention supporting different markups, such as XHTML in addition to HTML; to provide the utility to enhance the user’s experience, up to and including any extensions, such as the one I use to collect a page’s RDFa. Why, then, are we reducing the browser to nothing more than a device to to render HTML and JavaScript?

Firefox is working on its scripting engine, but it’s also been improving its graphical rendering engine, including adding in built-in support for color profiles, as well as improvements in support for CSS3 and SVG. Chrome has no support for color profiles, it’s graphical rendering engine sucks, as can be seen if you look at CSS3 curved corners in the browser, and it regularly fails my SVG tests. Try this SVG file in Chrome, but don’t blame me if your CPU spikes. Luckily, it seems that Chrome just aborts SVG files it can’t handle now, rather than fry the CPU. Then try the same page in Safari or Firefox; though both render the page slowly, they do render it—Chrome only rendered the file the third time through. It aborted the page the first two times. And the quality of the rendering? Well, see for yourself.

Look at my photos at MissouriGreen. Most use a color profile. Now, the photos look relatively good in Chrome on Windows, because I’m favoring a sRGB color profile to ensure maximum coverage, but if Chrome is ever implemented in the Mac, the photos will look plain, and washed out, as they do now with Opera. Not so the latest Firefox, and Safari.

Lastly, look at this site, or Just Shelley in Chrome, as compared to Safari, or Firefox, even the latest beta of Opera. I make extensive use of box and text shadows, as well as CSS3-based curved corners. No browser is perfect in its implementation of CSS3 curved corners yet, but the anti-aliasing in Firefox and Safari is vastly superior than what you’ll find in Chrome. I have noticed, though, that Chrome has improved its text and box shadows: it doesn’t plaster them half way down the page, now.

Why, then, do we talk about how “superior” Chrome is? And how Firefox is dying? When one looks at all of the browsers from an overall web experience, only IE8 is worse than Chrome.

I apportion blame for an over-emphasis on fast script over everything else equally between Google and the current HTML5 effort. I found it telling that, at the same time people are lambasting Firefox for “slowing” down, and praising Chrome for “speeding” up, Douglas Bowman is leaving Google primarily because the company relies on engineering practices, at the expense of fundamentals of design. One doesn’t have to stretch one’s intuition in order to see that the “machine” is also the emphasis in Chrome. But the same could also be said about the HTML5 effort: an emphasis on mechanistic aspects, such as client-side storage and drag-and-drop, at the expense of a more holistic environment, such as including support for SVG and ensuring continued support for accessibility—though I think this week, at least, client side storage has been pulled for inclusion…elsewhere.

Speed is important in a web browser, speed and efficiency, and Firefox isn’t perfect. Newer versions have been locking up on my Leopard machine, to the point where I now prefer Safari on the Mac. If I had to take a guess, Firefox has threading issues. It also needs to work on isolating extensions to the point where they can’t harm the overall browsing experience—or at least put something in place so that one knows certain extensions can adversely impact on browser performance.

At the same time, Chrome desperately needs to improve its graphics rendering capability. As this occurs, and as Chrome gets loaded down with extensions, I don’t think we’ll see the same fast speeds when rendering pages we see now.

It’s all a question of balance—the best browsers are the most balanced browsers, and sometimes this means slower page loading in support of better page rendering. As it is, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Opera are all giants towering over the anemic and disappointing IE8. If we want to talk about a browser “dying”, I have a better candidate in mind than Firefox.

Social Media

Twitter: an interesting experiment

I’ve now used Twitter seriously for a month or two. I’ve enjoyed chatting with friends, and experiencing an application that brings genuine enjoyment to people I like, and admire. I can also now see the utility of the tool, especially for those who don’t communicate frequently online, as it gives us a way to keep in touch and stay informed. But in the last week, I’ve grown less interested in using the application.

One reason for my growing lack of enthusiasm for Twitter is posts disappearing—a relatively frequent event that has happened to a lot of people this week. Given how taxed the application is, problems of this nature are not surprising. What is surprising, though, is how indifferent most people seemed to be about the whole thing. Perhaps I’m old fashioned but one fact I’ve learned over the years in developing applications is that the data is sacrosanct. That the loss of “tweets” is no big thing to folks tells me that a) the underlying application has problems more profound then just being able to access the service, and b) that people don’t really seem to value what they post on the service. That last one is particularly confusing: if the people don’t value what they post, then why spend so much time using the tool?

Another reason I’m thinking of using it less is that I can’t keep up with the posts. By Twitter standards, I’m practically a loner, but I find the amount of news and information to be overwhelming. Before this week, if I wanted to catch up with specific people, I would just go to their Twitter page. However, with Twitter dropping posts, I’m most likely going to miss half of what they said, anyway.

Then there’s the whole “mean” thing. I guess I’m “mean” or sarcastic with too many of my postings. The problem is, you can easily write upbeat, positive, and wonderful things within 140 characters, but the same can not be said about criticism. Not all of us have mastered the art of Twitter snark.

None of this would matter, though, if it weren’t for my lack of comfort with Twitter. I cannot get over that feeling of being the person at the party who drinks too much and says the wrong thing at the wrong time; or puts on the lamp shade and dances around wearing nothing but socks and strategically placed jello shots. Frankly, I don’t think everyone is cut out for Twitter.

Remember the scene in the movie Pretty Woman, when Edward Lewis (played by Richard Gere) takes Vivian (played by Julia Robertson) to the Opera? Just before the curtain goes up, Edward tells Vivian, People’s reactions to opera the first time they see it is very dramatic; they either love it or they hate it. If they love it, they will always love it. If they don’t, they may learn to appreciate it, but it will never become part of their soul. Well, I hated Twitter when I first saw it.


Best of luck finding a suitable employer

Roger Johansson

I believe having more content creators and ”authors”, i.e. web designers and web developers, in the HTML Working Group would be good. Unfortunately I think it’s hard to find web professionals who can spare the time unless they get paid to participate. I know I can’t.

When I mentioned something virtually identical to Ian Hickson, he told me

I am sorry you feel that you need to be compensated for your participation in the standards community, and wish you the best of luck in finding a suitable employer.

Can’t wait to read Ian Hickson telling Roger Johansson, “…best of luck in finding a suitable employer.”


EOL Monetized

I wrote about planning for death, including how to handle our online lives last August in a writing titled, Planning your own EOL. Evidently, others had the same idea, and now businesses with names like Deathswitch and Slightly Morbid are springing up, providing services such as that one last email to be sent.

The Death of gamers leave their lives in limbo

With all of the foo-flah about Twitter this weekend, perhaps I should start a company called LastTweet. It could feature its own cute graphic—a gracefully dead bird, or perhaps an artistic rendition of roadkill. What would the hash mark be for messages from the company? Something like #RIP? #deadmantweeting?



Being a Kindle owner, I’ve been following, and involved in, many discussions related to the recent DMCA take down notice that Amazon served on the eBook friendly site MobileRead. I’m too tuckered from arguing in other forums to say much now. At this time, all I’m going to do is list out pertinent articles and forum threads, and write my first impressions of the events.

The take down notice was first detailed in MobileThread

As some of you may already know, this week we received a DMCA take-down notice from Amazon requesting the removal of the tool and instructions associated with it. Although we never hosted this tool (contrary to their claim), nor believe that this tool is used to remove technological measures (contrary to their claim), we decided, due to the vagueness of the DMCA law and our intention to remain in good relation with Amazon, to voluntarily follow their request and remove links and detailed instructions related to it.

A quick backgrounder: is a small Python script allowing you to derive a Mobipocket-compatible personal identifier (PID) for your Kindle reader. This PID in itself has nothing at all to do with reading any copyrighted content. It is only used to make legitimate e-book purchases at stores other than Amazon’s.

We believe in the freedom of speech and we encourage you to continue expressing your views and thoughts on tools like We only ask you not to provide any how-to instructions, source codes and/or links for obtaining

Several people and organizations have weighed in on the issue, including Slashdot, BoingBoing, CNet and so on. You can find links to the articles in TechMeme, but I also linked stories as I found them in a thread I started in the Kindle owner’s forum at Amazon. Current entries to that thread: 127 and counting. Some interesting, and differing, opinions are shared.

What puzzled a lot of people is, why now? The application that Amazon is unhappy about,, has been out and in use, and discussion item in Amazon forums since December of 2007. So, why now, and why serve a DMCA on MobileRead, rather than Google Apps, or other sites were the software is actually hosted?

A little hunting around found the most likely cause of this current foo-flah: another thread at MobileRead. The timing of the thread and the DMCA seem too close not to be related.

I’m not rigidly against DRM, though I would be happy to have my own books DRM free. (Painting the Web is available without DRM at O’Reilly.) As we all know, DRM typically harms legitimate owners, and does little to prevent piracy. Regardless, I can understand the use of DRM…but it should be based on a consistent standard the industry shares, so that if I buy a book at one eBook store, it will work with my Kindle; and an Amazon eBook will work on devices other than Kindle. Anything else is death to the industry. The industry is just too new, and too small, to be fragmented by such walls.

The Kindle is based on the MobiPocket Mobi digital format. Because of this shared format, Mobi books will work on a Kindle. However, Mobi books also have a PID-based DRM system that requires you provide your device’s PID if you want to buy a book. What does is provide Kindle owners that PID. It does not bypass the DRM; it doesn’t circumvent copyright—it just gives us the ability to buy books in other stores.

More importantly, libraries are now incorporating digital book loans, but they’re based on DRM-enabled PDF files, or DRM-based Mobi books. If we want to “check” a book out at our libraries for use on our Kindle, we have to use both kindlepid, to get the PID, and kindlefix, to set a flag so we can read the book on our Kindles.

The book loan still expires at the end of the loan program. We can still only read the book on the given device. We’ve not broken either law or copyright or DRM. And since Amazon refuses to work with libraries, about the only way Kindle owners will have access to library loans is the use of this software.

The DMCA move by Amazon was especially disappointing to me, personally, because one reason I felt comfortable with buying a Kindle is that I trusted Amazon, I trusted Jeff Bezos, not to keep the Kindle jailed forever. I assumed that over time, the company would open both the Kindle, and the book store. I believed that what Amazon did for MP3s, it would eventually do with eBooks. Well, I can see with the DMCA, my trust was misplaced. I guess one can never get too old to still be naive.

I still like my Kindle, but I’m no longer comfortable buying books for it from Amazon. Luckily there are free ones that Amazon “allows” me to load on to the Kindle. As for new books, I’ve returned to paper books, via library loans. Too bad, too, because my library just doesn’t carry all the books I want.

I’ve also taken copious notes from the books I do have on the Kindle, for that day when the device breaks. I strongly doubt I’ll ever buy another eBook reader, much less another Kindle. Not until the industry gets its act together.

Like I said, more some other time.