HTML5 Popularity Growing as an Application Platform

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | September 1, 2013 - 06:39 PM |
Tagged: html5, app

Write once and run everywhere. Web developers, just a few years ago, would scoff and make some offhand comment about several versions of a major browser. The last couple of versions are adhering to standards even better than some other vendors. Applications which can reasonably ignore legacy versions, such as mobile apps embedding the rendering engine of their host OS, are able to reuse large chunks of code. Likewise, browsers have since refocused on performance and feature-parity with native platforms.

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Image Credit: Forrester via ZDNet

Forrester Research, as reported by ZDNet, conducted a survey of 478 North American and European mobile developers. Across all responders, 41% of man-hours are on average spent on native applications. 46% of man-hours are split fairly evenly between web apps and hybrid apps which contain both native and web components.

As such, more time is spent developing applications which take advantage of web standards, to some extent, than apps which do not.

The report finds enterprise applications are more likely to shift towards web technologies than consumer apps. This makes sense in two ways: enterprise software use default user interface elements and, to some extent, less tolerance for the platform owner unilaterally managing compatibility. I would also expect developers of consumer apps to be more concerned about performance and snappy response.

But web technologies are still getting better. Even Epic Games expects many Unreal Engine 4 titles to be handled directly by web browser -- even fully offline experiences. I mean, if you have ever designed a website, you have probably tested it within some random directory in your hard drive. Just because it runs in a web browser, does not mean it requires an internet connection.

It should, however, imply compatibility with other browsers. The curse and the blessing for web developers.

Source: ZDNet

Microsoft Likes That Modern Will Not Get Them Sued: Compatibility Website "modern.IE" Launches

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | February 2, 2013 - 03:23 PM |
Tagged: webkit, w3c, microsoft, internet explorer, html5

Microsoft has been doing their penance for the sins against web developers of the two decades past. The company does not want developers to target specific browsers and opt to include W3C implementations of features if they are available.

What an ironic turn of events.

Microsoft traditionally fought web standards, forcing developers to implement ActiveX and filters to access advanced features such as opacity. Web developers would program their websites multiple times to account for the... intricacies... of Internet Explorer when compared to virtually every other browser.

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Now Google and Apple, rightfully or otherwise (respectively, trollolol), are heavily gaining in popularity. This increase in popularity leads to websites implementing features exclusively for Webkit-based browsers. Internet Explorer is not the browser which gets targeted for advanced effect. If there is Internet Explorer-specific code in sites it is usually workarounds for earlier versions of the browser and only muck up Microsoft's recent standards-compliance by feeding it non-standard junk.

It has been an uphill battle for Microsoft to push users to upgrade their browsers and web developers to upgrade their sites. “modern.IE” is a service which checks for typical incompatibilities and allows for developers to test their site across multiple versions of IE.

Even still, several web technologies are absent in Internet Explorer as they have not been adopted by the W3C. WebGL and WebCL seek to make the web browser into high-performance platform for applications. Microsoft has been vocal about not supporting these Khronos-backed technologies on the grounds of security. Instead of building out web browsers as a cross-platform application platform Microsoft is pushing hard to not get their app marketplace ignored.

I am not sure what Microsoft should fear most: that their app marketplace will be smothered by their competitors, or whether they only manage to win the battle after the war changes theaters. You know what they say, history repeats itself.

Source: Ars Technica

CES 2013: Firefox OS Coming to Low-End Smartphones Later This Year

Subject: Mobile | January 10, 2013 - 01:23 AM |
Tagged: zte, smartphone, mozilla, html5, Firefox OS, ces 2013, CES

Mozilla has been interested in smartphones for awhile now. The Boot2Gecko project has since transitioned to Firefox OS, and now the company is nearly ready to officially release the code and begin getting it onto smartphones and competing with the current giants of Android, iOS, and WP8. According to The Verge, who talked with the company at CES, Mozilla’s mobile operating system will be released within the next two weeks.

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The Verge checks out a prototype phone running Firefox OS.

The mobile OS is coded in HTML5 and uses HTML5 applications. While Mozilla plans to introduce an app store to curate things, currently users are able to find run web apps on the Internet. Do not expect Firefox OS to take the smartphone world by storm this year, however. Mozilla will reportedly restrict the mobile OS to low end hardware, with up to 800MHz single core ARM processors. Further, no OEM phones are scheduled for a US release this year (so far). ZTE has confirmed that it is pursuing handsets with Firefox OS pre-installed. Currently, the company is planning at least one low end smartphone release in Europe late this year. US residents will likely not see Firefox OS shipping with phones until next year at the earliest, depending on how well the phones do in the developing markets and when Mozilla opens up the hardware restrictions to higher-end devices.

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Until then, you can check out Firefox OS for yourself in a simulator using the Firefox web browser and a browser add-on called the Firefox OS Simulator. To test it out, open up a Firefox browser window and install the add-on from this webpage. Then click the Firefox button and navigate to Web Developer > Firefox OS Simulator. Then, on the left hand side of the window that opens, click the stopped button to start the simulator. A new window will open running the mobile operating system.

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The Dialer, Messages, and Web Browser apps in Firefox OS.

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HTML5 Games: The Legacy of PC Gaming?

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Mobile | December 30, 2012 - 01:48 PM |
Tagged: webgl, w3c, html5

I use that title in quite a broad sense.

I ran across an article on The Verge which highlighted the work of a couple of programmers to port classic Realtime Strategy games to the web browser. Command and Conquer along with Dune II, two classics of PC Gaming, are now available online for anyone with a properly standards-compliant browser.

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These games, along with the Sierra classics I wrote about last February, are not just a renaissance of classic PC games: they preserve them. It is up to the implementer to follow the standard, not the standards body to approve implementations. So long as someone still makes a browser which can access a standards-based game, the game can continue to be supported.

A sharp turn from what we are used to with console platforms, right?

I have been saying this for quite some time now: Blizzard and Valve tend to support their games much longer than console manufacturers support their whole platforms. You can still purchase at retail, and they still manufacture, the original StarCraft. The big fear over “modern Windows” is that backwards compatibility will be ended and all applications would need to be certified by the Windows Store.

When programmed for the browser -- yes, even hosted offline on local storage -- those worries disappear. Exceptions for iOS and Windows RT where they only allow you to use Safari or Trident (IE10+) which still leaves you solely at their mercy to follow standards.

Still, as standards get closer to native applications in features and performance, we will have a venue for artists to create and preserve their work for later generations to experience. The current examples might be 2D and of the pre-Pentium era but even now there are 3D-based shooters developed from websites. There is even a ray tracing application built on WebGL (although that technically is reliant on both the W3C and Khronos standards bodies) that just runs in a decent computer with plain-old Firefox or Google Chrome.

Source: The Verge

HTML5 Defined!

Subject: General Tech, Mobile | December 18, 2012 - 11:56 PM |
Tagged: w3c, html5

Open Web Standards has reached a new milestone on Monday when the W3C published their completed definitions for HTML5 and Canvas 2D. There is still a long and hard road until the specification becomes an official standard although the organization is finally comfortable classifying this description as feature complete.

The “Web Platform” is a collection of standards which form an environment for applications to target the web browser. HTML basically forms the structure for content and provides guidelines for what that structure physically means. CSS, Javascript, Canvas 2D, WebGL, WebCL, and other standards then contribute to the form and function of the content.

HTML5 allows for much more media, interactivity, and device-optimization than its 1999 predecessor. This standard, particularly once finalized and recommended by the W3C, can be part of the basis for fully featured programs which function as expected where the standard does.

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This is an important milestone but one by no means the final destination of the standard.

The biggest sticking point in the HTML5 specification is still over video tag behavior. The W3C pushes for standards it recommends to comply with its royalty-free patent policy. Implementation of video has been pretty heavily locked down by various industry bodies, most noticeably MPEG-LA, which is most concerning for open source implementations which might not be able to include H.264. There still does not appear to be a firm resolution with this recent draft.

Still, once the patent issues have been settled, video will not just be accessible in static ways. Tutorials exist to show you how to manipulate the direct image data resulting from the video to do post-processing effects and other calculations. It should be an interesting abstraction for those who wish to implement video assets in applications such as for a texture in a game.

HTML5 is expected to be fully baked sometime in mid-2014. It would be around that time where HTML5.1 would mature to the state HTML5 celebrates today.

Source: W3C

Mozilla Will Support H.264 Codec For HTML5 Video, Grudgingly

Subject: General Tech | March 15, 2012 - 05:14 AM |
Tagged: webM, web browser, mozilla, html5, h.264, firefox

Mozilla executives working for the foundation behind the Firefox web browser today announced that they would be giving in to the H.264 codec as the open WebM VP8 codec has lost the war. The H.264 and VP8 (part of WebM) codecs are used to encode and decode video files, and are especially important on mobile devices as Flash support is less ubiquitous (or totally absent if you're using Apple products). In the absense of flash, the web turned to the HTML5 standard which provides <code><video></code> tags that allow direct embedding of videos into websites. Also important is that H.264  has wide support for being hardware accelerated on many mobile devices, enabling smart phones to smoothly playback high quality files that the low power CPU portion of ARM SoCs would otherwise struggle with. This situation is also available to desktop users, but is less of an issue as processing power is not as scarce and can, ah, accommodate Adobe's Flash plugin (heh).

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The downside, and where all the controversy arises from, is that the H.264 codec is not free and requires manufacturers or sites that stream H.264 videos for a fee to license it as well as users, though the actual cost for licensing is generally rolled into the cost of the OS, device, or other piece of purchased software. Further, because the HTML5 standard does not specifically define a set video codec, there is room for fragmentation. Adobe, Mozilla, and Google eventually would jump behind what is now known as the WebM standard, which is an open (and free) video codec (VP8) that would not require expensive licensing restrictions. On the other hand, Apple backed the H.264 standard. Mozilla would roll WebM into their browser but not H.264, meaning that users could view HTML5 videos using Firefox but not HTML5 videos encoded with the H.264 codec. Google, Apple, and Microsoft would support the H.264 codec for HTML5 videos, despite Google developing WebM (and the included VP8 video codec) and giving word of mouth support for WebM. This meant that Chrome users could view both WebM and H.264 based HTML5 video.

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According to the article, Google promised to drop support for H.264 and move solely to the WebM VP8 codec to entice websites to move to the open codec. Unfortunately, the company never came through with that promise, and has continued to offer dual support while Mozilla was left holding the open source support banner and causing their users to suffer as a result. The article references a study by MeFeedia that suggests that as of December 2011, H.264 based HTML5 video accounts for 80% of the market, implying that WebM has already lost the war. Brendan Eich, Mozilla's Chief Technology Officer noted that WebM needed support from a larger entity than Mozilla, and it needed that support in the beginning. Especially with Apple heralding H.264, for mobile site publishers, WebM really needed heavy backing to compete with Apple's market share and influential support of H.264 to have a chance. He further stated that:

"it might not have worked then, even with Google on-side. Now, with just Mozilla going it alone, all we do is kill our mobile initiatives in order to appear pure...That does not serve our mission or users."

Mozilla is now looking to support H.264, if a bit grudgingly. At this point, not supporting H.264 is only hurting their users and market share and not furthering their push for WebM. After all, if users are forced to look at other browsers just to play videos, it will not be WebM that is the only open source software forgotten (rather, the entire Mozilla web browser will wain).

Granted, Google is not the only company to blame for VP8 not catching on, Adobe also failed to properly push the codec. Also, Google is allegedly continuing to develop VP8 and WebM. Right now; however, losing Mozilla's support seems to be the final nail in the WebM coffin and the recognition that H.264 is the dominant format. More information is available here.

Source: CNET