Infrequently Noted

Alex Russell on browsers, standards, and the process of progress.

WebKit, Mobile, and Progress

PPK posted some great new compat tables for various flavors of WebKit-based browsers the other day, editorializing that:

...Acid 3 scores range from a complete fail to 100 out of 100.

This is not consistency; it’s thinly veiled chaos.

But I'm not convinced that the situation is nearly that bad.

The data doesn't reflect how fast the mobile market changes. The traditional difference between mobile and desktop, after all, has been that mobile is moving at all. If you figure a conservative 24 month average replacement cycle for smartphones, then the entire market for browsers turns over every two years. And that's the historical view. An increasing percentage of smartphone owners now receive regular software updates that provide new browsers even faster. What matters then is how old the WebKit version in a particular firmware is and how prevalant that firmware is in the real world. As usual, distribution and market share are what matters in determining real-world compatibility, and if that's a constantly changing secnario, the data should at least reflect how things are changing.

So what if we add a column to represent the vintage of the tested WebKit versions? Here's a slightly re-formatted version of PPK's summary data, separated by desktop/mobile and including rough WebKit vintages (corrections and new data much appreciated if you happen to know!):

Browser Score (max 216) Vintage
Safari 4.0 204 2009
Chrome 3 192 2009
Chrome 2 188 Early 2009
Safari 3.1 159 2008
Chrome 1 153 Early 2008
Safari 3.0 108 2007
Konqueror 3.5.7 103 2007
Konqueror (newer, untested) 0 ??
Browser Score (max 216) Vintage
Ozone (version?) 185 (?) Late 2009
iPhone 3.1 172 2009
Iris (version?) 163 (??) 2008
JIL Emulator (version?) 162 ??
Bolt (version?) 155 ??
iPhone 2.2 152 2008
Android G2 (version? 1.6?) 144 (??) Late 2008
Palm Pre (version?) 134 ??
Android G1 (1.5?) 108 (??) 2008
Series 60 v5 93 (??) 2008
Series 60 v3 (feature pack?) 45 2005

PPKs data is missing some other columns too, namely a rough estimate of the percent of mobile handsets running a particular version, rates of change in that landscape over the past 18 months, and whether or not these browsers are on the whole better than the deployed fleet of desktop browsers. Considering that web devs today still can't target everything in Acid2, knowing how the mobile world compares to desktops will provide some much-needed context for these valuable tables. Perhaps those are things that we as a community can chip in to help provide.

Even without all of that, just adding the rough vintages adds an arc to the story; one that's not nearly so glum and dreary. What we can see is that newer versions of WebKit are much more capable and compatible, even at the edges. None of PPK's data yet tests where the baseline is, so remember that the numbers presented mostly describe new-ish features on the platform. We also see clearly that the constraints of the mobile environment force some compromises vs. desktop browsers of the same lineage. This is all in line with what I'd expect from a world where:

The important takeaway for web developers in all of this is that WebKit is winning and that that is a good thing. The dynamics of the marketplace have thus far ensured that we don't get "stuck" the way we did on the desktop. That is real progress.

Where do we go from here? Given that the mobile marketplace is changing at a rate that's nearly unheard of on the desktop, I think that when new charts and comparisons are made, we'll need to couch them in terms of "how does this affect the difference in capabilities across the deployed base", rather than simply looking at instantaneous features. Mobile users are at once more likely tied to their OSes choice of browser and more likely to get a better browser sooner. That combination defies how we think about desktop browsers, so we'll need to add more context to get a reasonable view of the mobile world.

More Orthodox Heresy

9L30 != 9L31a

Somehow I got out of sync with everyone else in the local distcc cluster at work. How? Weirdly, the XCode settings showed that while there were plenty of peers around to build with, they were all slightly off (har) in their OS version number, and therefore returned the dreaded "Incompatible Service".

Some googling revealed that Apple shipped two 10.5.8's!. A regular software-update won't trigger the required update, either. Luckily, re-applying the stand-alone updater got me up to 9l31a, and I can once again abuse my co-worker's CPUs instead of my own. Phew!

Dojo Developer Day, TOMORROW

I've been so busy with with work and such that I totally forgot to mention that tomorrow, Sept 10th there will be a Dojo Developer Day in Mountain View, generously hosted by AOL.

Come for the whole day, drop by for a bit, or just join us for dinner/drinks afterward. In the ramp up to 1.4, there's some great engineering happening in nearly every area of the toolkit, including some great new visual improvements that I expect to see and hear a lot about tomorrow.

As usual, folks will be on IRC throughout the day should you not be able to join us in person, and in a first, we'll have a live feed of the event going.

Hope you can join us!

A Contract With America

Dear Republican Senators (and Max Baucus):

Since you do not believe that health insurance should always be available via large-group policy to the vast majority of Americans, and since you seem to believe that the individual insurance market functions well, I believe it is only proper for you to buy insurance in the individual market.

As a taxpayer, I'm sure you're as galled as I am that we're continuing to insure America's Senators through a nearly socialist system, and while you haven't yet discovered the presence of mind to submit legislation to end this objectionable practice and free all of America's Senators from the yoke of tyranny, you can personally act to see this deeply un-'merican policy corrected. In short, I urge you to find the courage of your convictions and put your health where our money is.

I recognize that legislating in good faith is no longer "on the table" for you. It has to be hard being the party of "no", never having anything constructive to offer -- never being asked to think independently about anything -- but this is something that you can do for your country. A contract with America, if you will. Or if not with America, a contract with an individual insurer in the greater District of Columbia and/or your home state...anyway, you get the idea. It'd be a contract for America at the very least.

On this Labor Day, I urge you to do the right thing. Join your constituents and say, with one voice, "what do you mean you won't cover Timmy's ear infection? He was just born! How can that be pre-existing!?!" This is "rugged individualism" at its finest. Just you against the private-sector Man. The way it should be.

True, this won't be a 1:1 comparison since you're in the top 3% of all earners. But don't worry, you'll soon find that you can't afford the coverage you're currently enjoying when you buy in the individual market. Your new, terrible, and terribly expensive insurance will doubtless give you the flavor of what the rest of us experience.

Ingeniously, this plan doesn't even require that you do anything constructive toward health care reform. You can keep stiffing both your country and your constituents and you won't have to hold any of those awkward "town hall" meetings to explain yourself. After all, this is the fiscally conservative thing to do; you'll be saving taxpayers money, and who can argue with that?

Pretty soon, you might even be able to find the courage to do what your instincts -- and terrible economics -- tell you to do: advocate that our retirees buy in the individual market too! Once you discover how great the individual market is, you shouldn't have any qualms in making the case that everyone should join it. Just think how many people you'll be able to lift out of the oppressive regime of socialized insurance. The elderly will surely make their thanks known at the ballot box. As someone who's most likely "getting up there" yourself, you'll have added credibility on the issue...and seriously, when was the last time you had credibility? This is political gold.

You can even continue to play the part of hostage to broken, antiquated economics if it suits you (and your major campaign contributors, 'natch).

It's the very least you can do for your country, and for your (tiny) efforts you'll be set on a personal journey of discovery. You've never seen the pain and burning anger caused by "pre-existing condition" denials for things that are laughably routine. You've never wondered in awe at how large a deductible you were suckered into, and you've probably never had a plan with a lifetime cap on benefits; so when you really need them, they won't be there. In fact, I suspect that you have never considered that the majority of us don't even have actual health insurance.

By buying in the individual market, you can set an example. This is your chance to be a real pioneer! This could even be your first step towards representing a growing constituency -- something you Republicans have been searching for: those who have gone bankrupt under a mountain of medical bills because they had the temerity to get sick before they turned 65. Those folks might not have wealth, they might not even have their health, but they sure-as-hell are voters. Just think, you can get in on the ground floor of that action!

Yes, dear Senator, by simply finding your moral compass (you've got it back there somewhere, even if you haven't used it in a while) and following it for just one step, you can help us right this great nation again and return it to glory. I urge you to do this thing for your country, follow your ideology, and deny yourself the kind of care that you've worked so hard to deny the rest of us. It's the Right thing to do, after all.


Alex Russell

Older Posts

Newer Posts