Tech: A Welcome Respite

HTML5 logo with cat claw scratch

It’s long past time for me to return to technical writing, if only because I need a respite from the battle against Trump and his evil minions.

It helps that there is a lot to be excited about—in a good way—in the tech world. The Node community seems to be moving beyond its early growing pains and is starting to stabilize. There’s still occasional drama, but not enough to make you scream in horror and run away.

My beloved SVG is really coming into its own with widespread support. I’ve been waiting years for this. There are great libraries to make it easier to build applications, but for me, the holdup has always been browser support. Now, I can party.

CSS! Can you believe what you can do with CSS now?  Not to mention that the W3C has really its act together when it comes to documenting what’s happening with specs.

Speaking of specs…HTML is no longer held hostage by a tin-plated dictator.  I’m sorry, did I say that out loud? I did notice that the working group mailing list is extremely quiet nowadays. This is because all the action has moved to GitHub. Probably more efficient. Not as fun.

Excellent news about the W3C and IDPF merging their efforts.

The vision to align Publishing and Web technologies and create a new roadmap for the future of publishing became official today with the announcement that the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) have combined organizations.


Any element can be replaced with something more relevant

I only check into the doings of the HTML WG at the W3C once a week.

Most of my time is spent on my new book, Learning Node. Frankly, Node has been a refreshing change from the smoky labyrinth which is the HTML5 spec process. I’d check in with the Working Group less often, but I still hope to provide at least some moral support for those still slogging away.

You all do realize that the battle over longdesc is still being fought, don’t you? Oh, there’s other new battles, including some interesting ones over a new path object added to the Canvas2D spec (Eh? What?), and encrypted media (very long discussion about this one), but longdesc still remains the perennial favorite.

The issue now is keeping any decision about longdesc separate from decisions being made about ARIA attributes. At least, I think this is the issue. What caught my eye today was something Sam Ruby wrote to the group:

My biggest concern is resolving ISSUE-30. By that I mean done. There may be Formal Objections, but there won’t be new information, so at that point this Working Group is done subject to Director approval.

Put another way, I have zero interest in a provisional decision that
would likely lead to a reopening based on new information. At the
present time, I see two potential candidates for new information. One
is the subject of issue 204. The other would be somebody putting
forward a spec for something akin to an aria-describedAt attribute.

The reason I state that is that at the present time I see wide support
for the idea of obsoleting longdesc once there is a viable and clearly
superior replacement. Note: some may not believe that a viable and
clearly superior replacement is possible. Others may not believe that
such is imminent. But I worded what I said carefully to include such
people’s opinion.

So the task we face is eliminating all alternatives.

I can agree that resolving this issue, completely, should be a goal. However, Sam demands that those who support longdesc provide a surety that there can be no better alternative in the future, and that’s just impossible. There is no surety for any component or element of the HTML5 specification. I have no doubts that, at some future time, better and improved replacements can be found for all HTML5 elements, attributes, and various and assorted sundry APIs.

(Simple elimination comes to mind as a way of improving some of the new additions.)

No other element or attribute in HTML has undergone such rigid opposition and such rigorous support. I would feel better, much better, about HTML5 if any of the new objects, elements, and attributes received even a tenth of the inspection and discussion that has been afforded to lowly, simple little longdesc. Objects, such as Path.

And now, the gauntlet has been tossed: longdesc is our princess in the tower, the W3C the wicked sorceress, and the demand has been made that either a knight in shining armor rescue the poor damsel or she be dragon kibble.

Eliminate all alternatives to longdesc? How many years do we have, Sam?

Blaming the W3C for a proprietary web

I hope my last post on the W3C processes does not come off sounding like I’m jumping on to the “Down with the W3C” bandwagon advocated by others in the web development community. That couldn’t be further from the truth. If anything, I would not be as frustrated if I wasn’t such a big supporter of the W3C and its work. I certainly find the W3C’s effort to be more open than anything put out by Microsoft or Adobe.

In particular, I found Paul Ellis’ A Propriety Web? Blame the W3C to be disingenuous, at best.

He writes:

This may seem like a forgone conclusion to many of you after seeing the W3C’s development timetables, but the real reason Flash and Silverlight exist is because the “open web” people dropped the ball. HTML simply can handle what Flash and Silverlight can do. It has become increasingly stale for modern web development needs.

Here is some perspective, HTML5 has finally added a tag for handling video. Flash 6 came out with video support in 2002! Where is the HTML version of Line Rider? It is in Flash and Silverlight now. If you want to see something really interesting check out Hard Rock Cafe’s memorabilia page (Silverlight 2 required) and tell me if you’ve ever seen something like that with HTML.

The best response to this bit of criticism came in comments to the post, by a person named Paul, who wrote:

SVG had a video tag since at least 2004. But SVG is stalled in its development in large part because a major plugin developer (Adobe) and a major browser developer (Microsoft) are uninterested in it. So the slow evolution of web standards is a result, not a cause, of the big company’s wish to dominate the web.

In fact, there is no chapter in the Bible that says that the only two options are W3C and totally proprietary. If Microsoft were truly frustrated with the W3Cs pace (and not its openness) it could just call up Adobe, Mozilla et. al. and start another standards body. But Microsoft and Adobe do not want to co-operate on Web technologies. They want to compete, and use their dominance of certain other industries as levers that will allow them to define the platform unilaterally.

The man got it in one. The slow progress of the web can be laid exactly at the doorstep of a company like Microsoft, which refuses to implement most standards we’ve had for years in the interest of developing its own proprietary crap. Proprietary crap, I might add, which is competitive with the other proprietary crap being developed by Adobe. Why do something like Silverlight, which is based on XML, when there is something like SVG, also based on XML and implemented in the other browsers? The W3C did not “force” Microsoft to take this route—this is Microsoft doing what it does best: trying to own the technology.

In the meanwhile, the W3C has released specifications such as SVG, CSS, RDF, XHTML, and so on, in addition to ECMA’s work on JavaScript 2.0, all of which could provide all of the functionality we need, and more, and all of it free to use by everyone for everything. Oh, no, how evil. Instead, let’s praise companies for re-implementing all of this functionality in their own little plug-ins and browsers, leaving the rest of us web developers to scramble to learn how to implement their adorable, playful, and proprietary “enhancements” so that the applications work on all browsers and all operating systems.

Blame a proprietary web on the W3C!? In what universe?

I do think the W3C needs to change. I think the recent issue with the SVG interest group shows that the organization is too fixed in a bureaucracy no longer compatible with today’s way of doing business. However, we don’t have to wait on the W3C passing new specs in order to have the web of the future. If all the browser companies implemented all of the specifications that have been released, or are under final consideration, combined with the JavaScript we have today, we could do all that Flash and Silverlight and any of these proprietary technologies do…and more. If Microsoft were to implement these specifications in IE8, and encourage companies to move on from IE6 and IE7. If we didn’t have to depend on Adobe’s plug-in. If tools that generate content actually generate content correctly. If the WaSP returned to actually demanding tool makers adhere to standards, rather than become apologists for companies like Microsoft, and it’s cute little meta tags of the week.

Another commenter to the Ellis post wrote what good does it do for the W3C to push out more specifications when browser companies aren’t implementing the ones that already exist. That’s the key to this issue: the W3C can’t force implementation. Only we can force implementation, by using these specifications and leaving other browsers out in the cold. We’re certainly not going to get an open web if instead of punishing companies who are holding all of us back, we give in, lay on our backs, and think of Silverlight.

Invited Expert

I put in an application to be considered as an invited expert by the W3C in response to Jeff Schiller’s work to encourage participation in the SVG Interest Group. I do like SVG and am interested in promoting SVG, but the whole process of having to submit an application to be considered to be an invited expert just to participate in an interest group was uncomfortable. I’ve never been one to call myself an “expert”, and I don’t classify myself with other “invited experts” I’ve seen in other interest groups.

The W3C has to change how it does business. Consider the process just to join this group to promote SVG—something you would think the W3C would welcome with open arms:

  1. First you have to identify whether you work for an organization already in the W3C. I assume if you’re an individual who wants to participate without joining as part of your company’s effort, you’re out of luck.
  2. If you’re not part of a W3C organization, you’re asked to consider whether the company you work for might be interested in joining the W3C, before joining as an individual.
  3. If you stubbornly persist in being an individual to this point, you’re then greeted with the Policy for Approval of Invited Experts, where we’re told that normally the committee Chair and Contact would meet with us, first, before submitting the application. Then the application is reviewed, and if the “invited expert” would need to have access to W3C members-only area, another internal approval process must be conducted.
  4. At some point in time, within ten business days, my application may, or may not, be approved. If it is approved, though, anything I do associated with this effort immediately becomes property of the W3C.

In addition, I can only remain a member of good standing if I don’t miss any more than one face-to-face meeting in three, even if I have to pay my own way to Boston, where one assumes such meetings take place. Of course, if the Chair is feeling generous, I may be excused this requirement. However, I must refrain from “offending” any other member of the W3C; criteria I’m sure to have already failed, just by writing this post.

No, I’m not invited expert material. I’m just a tech who likes SVG and wants to see its popularity grow.