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Archive: March 2006

An Event Apart Chicago

Back when we announced An Event Apart Atlanta, there was a promise of more cities to come:

Can’t make Atlanta on April 3rd? Event Apart seminars in Seattle, Chicago, and Los Angeles (not necessarily in that order) are up next.

The first of those three has now been announced: An Event Apart Chicago, to be held June 2nd, 2006 at the Gleacher Center right in the heart of downtown Chicago.  Not only will this show reprise the speaker lineup from our Philadelphia show, but our first foray to the Windy City will also feature Jim Coudal as a guest speaker.  He’s a respected Web designer and founder of Coudal Partners, the guy behind Jewelboxing, The Show, and The Deck, and (along with Jason Fried) opened this year’s SXSW Interactive.  He hasn’t chosen his specific topic as I write this, but as far as I’m concerned he can call it “An Hour of Jim Coudal Talking About Whatever The Hell He Wants”.

Registration is already open, so if you’re planning to attend, don’t tarry.  (In fact, just as I went to post this, the first registration came in!)  We have a hard limit on the number of seats available, so when they’re gone, they’re gone.  Much as it pained us, we had to turn away a number of people from the first two Events.  If you want to avoid paining us further, register soon.

IE7 Improvements and Bug Tracking

Over on IEblog, Markus Mielke has a great IE7 post with screenshots of a CSS Zen Garden-inspired layout showing off fixed positioning, PNG alpha channels, arbitrary-element hover, and so much more.  There are those who have called for its inclusion into the Zen Garden, but as Dave points out, it would break in IE6 and so couldn’t qualify as an official design.  Oh, the irony.

Getting back to Markus’ post, he has this to say near the end:

…we are now layout complete with the release of the MIX build – we don’t plan to add more layout features or drastically change layout behavior. This gives web developers a chance to test and prepare your pages for Vista Beta2 and the final release of IE7.  There are still bugs and missing features (display tables, generated content to name a few) we would have liked to do for IE7 but based on your requests to have some lead time to test your pages we need to lock it down now to be able to ship IE7.

So there you go: no more CSS functionality will be added to IE7.  Anything that isn’t there, like CSS table properties and the like, will have to wait for a future version.  As has been publicly stated, though, we won’t have to wait five years for the next version.  There’s no solid guarantee of how long or short a wait there will be, but Bill Gates himself said that new versions would come out more frequently.  The IE team reiterated this.

So will current bugs in IE7′s CSS handling be fixed?  I give that a solid “maybe”.  Markus has left the door partway open by saying that there are no plans to make drastic changes to layout behavior.  That could mean that if a bug fix only causes minor changes, then it might get in.  On the other hand, it could mean that unless existing behavior causes massive problems (or crashes), no bug fixes will be taken until after IE7.  Personally, I wouldn’t count on it, but I’ve been wrong before.

Then, in the same post, Markus drops an entirely new bombshell:

The good news is that we are in the progress of building up a public bug database where you can submit your issues, track their progress and see when we internally fix an issue – Al is going to post about this soon.  Your participation will help us greatly to improve IE and also help us to prioritize what bugs to fix for the next releases.

Sweet fancy Moses—a Bugzilla for IE?  There was no mention of this within my earshot at Mix 06, so I’m as surprised as anyone else.  Did I fall down a rabbit hole and quaff a bottle labeled “DRINK ME”?  If this is a dream, I don’t ever want to wake up.

The Redmond-haters will claim that this is just a lot of catch-up, played years late, and amounts to little more than aping what Mozilla and other browser makers have been doing—better standards support, a tabbed interface, open bug databases, and so on.  It happens that they’re right, but what’s wrong with that?  The IE team has looked over what happened while they were in hibernation and is emulating the best of it.  That’s not lame, that’s smart.  And it should have other browser makers a little bit worried.  A lot of their success has been due to Microsoft’s complacency.  They’re going to have to be a lot sharper and more nimble now that the 800 pound gorilla is actually awake and paying attention to its surroundings.

No, I don’t think IE will wipe everyone else off the map, but I do think the browser space is getting a lot more interesting.  What makes it particularly interesting is that the competition is not going to be over who can add the coolest non-standard geegaws, but who can deliver the best product based on the same standards as everyone else.

I’ve wondered what that would be like ever since I got seriously into standards back in mid-1996.  I almost can’t believe that there’s a chance I’ll get to find out.

Mixed Impressions

Actually, I shamelessly used that title simply because it’s a little play on words.  By and large, my impressions of Mix 06 and what I’ve seen here are positive.  This isn’t my last word on everything going on here, but I wanted to share.  Enjoy!

  • You can drag-rearrange tabs in Firefox just by click-and-dragging the tabs.  Seriously, I had no idea.  Thanks to Dan Short for setting me straight on that score.

  • In his keynote, Bill Gates said “we need microformats”, which I didn’t even know was on his radar.  For more about that, head on over to microformats.org.

  • Microsoft is coming out with a new Windows-only Web design tool called Expression.  It’s pretty slick, with features like visually illustrating margins and padding in the design view and what seemed like smart management of styles.  Unfortunately, I had a little trouble following what it was doing, mostly because I saw it presented in a talk and didn’t have hands-on time.

    Basically, Expression seems to be FrontPage done right, with a relentless focus on standards-oriented design principles. It has its own rendering engine for the design view, and the whole thing was built from the ground up, which means it isn’t trapped by legacy rendering concerns, but it made several of us wonder why that isn’t what they use in IE7.

    I also had trouble mentally distinguishing it from other visual Web design environments like Dreamweaver, but that’s probably because I don’t use a visual design environment.  BBEdit 4-evah, baby!

    Speaking of which, there are no plans to port Expression to the Mac.  Whether that’s good or bad probably  depends on your worldview.  Look for public betas of Expression somewhere in the June 2006 time frame.

  • It was publicly stated that the current build of the IE7 beta available from Microsoft is rendering-behavior complete.  In other words, the only changes to IE7 from now until it goes final will be fixes to security holes, crash bugs, and browser chrome/UI stuff.  Whatever its CSS support does or doesn’t do, that’s how the final version is expected to behave.

    Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.

I’ll take a few minutes on that last point.  A little while ago, I said that designers should remain calm and not hack their sites to fix them in the IE7 beta because it was a moving target.  That is no longer the case.  It’s now time to start testing sites in the IE7 beta and identifying any layout problems that may occur.  (And there will be problems.  No browser is perfect.)

I’ll be doing this as soon as I can, and I encourage everyone who can to do the same.  Here’s the other key point: IE7 is scheduled to go final in the second half of 2006 (I couldn’t get anything more specific), so we have a calm period of at least three months in which to find out how things stand before IE7 goes final.  This isn’t an accidental circumstance, either.  The IE team has deliberately done this in order to give Web developers time to figure out what’s coming and how to deal with it.

This is entirely in keeping with the new spirit of the IE team, which has impressed me again and again at this conference.  Once upon a time, upgrades to standards support were blocked by the cry “We have customers!”, which was maddening both because it impeded progress and because it was true, as I wrote back in 1998.  The usual counter-argument was that Web designers and developers are customers, too.  We just weren’t (often) treated that way.

Now we are considered customers of the IE team—not the only ones, but important ones.  Not every decision will go our way (even if we had a single “way”, which of course we don’t) but our needs and concerns will be considered.  As further proof besides the “grace period” built into the IE7 timeline, the IE team is creating tools and resources meant to make it easier to update sites for IE7.

I’ll have a good deal more to say about all this in the near future, but those are the big points in my head right now.  I expect to hear Dave‘s, Andy‘s, and Molly‘s takes on all this, and hopefully others will add their thoughts as well.

SXSW Summary

There’s been much talk of this year’s SXSW and how overwhelmingly huge it was.  I don’t have a whole lot to add to that, really.  I thought last year was out of control.  This year left it standing.

Without question, the best panel I saw was “How to Convince Your Company to Embrace Standards“.  This was not due to the topic, though that was good too, but because the panel was tightly assembled and packed with good information.  Most panels are a collection of folks who sit onstage and leisurely toss out assorted thoughts for an hour; I should know, having been on many such panels in the past.  For this one, everybody had specific points to make and made them concisely.  There was a lot of preparation, and it showed.  It very much raised the bar, as far as I’m concerned, especially since I’m thinking of proposing a panel or two for 2007.  Kudos to all involved.

Also:

  • It was interesting to sit on the “How to Roll Your Own Web Conference” panel with Jason Fried and hear his experiences.  You may recall that when I wrote about event pricing, I said one way to find an event’s optimum price was to run it over and over and keep raising the price until you stopped selling all the seats.  That’s exactly what’s happening with the “Getting Real” workshop.  It will be interesting to see where they level off.  Assuming they do.

  • John Allsopp‘s presentation during the WaSP Annual Meeting was an interesting experience for me.  It also covered a bit of the same ground I plan to cover in my keynote for @media.

  • In two different lunches, I told people from computer book publishers that their whole business model is in danger of collapsing.  Interestingly, both (more or less) agreed.  Sadly, it seems that only one is working for a company that’s aware of this fact, and it isn’t the company you’d probably assume.

  • I’ve decided I much prefer El Sol y La Luna to Las Manitas when it comes to the food.  Las Manitas, of course, wins on the basis of proximity.  Also for not deafening its patio patrons.

  • No joke: I got into our rental car in Austin and the Avis Preferred hangtag said “ETA: CSS“.

Good times.

No Kidding

After a short evening walk, Tantek and Kat and Carolyn and I arrived at 219 West in Austin, Texas for the WestCiv gathering.  The crowd inside was quite loud and densely packed, saturated with so many Web geeks that it was threatening to precipitate a site right onto the carpet.

Just as we got close to some people we knew, a staff member appeared at our elbows.  “I’m very sorry, folks, but this is a 21-and-over establishment,” he said with a distinct lack of sorrow.

So if you wondered where we were, or happened to spot us in the 90 second window before we left, or I walked past you without interacting and never got back to you… that’s why.  We weren’t blowing you off; we just ran afoul of an odd local custom.

As a result, we’ll be absent from the vast majority of the evening gatherings at SXSW.  Hope all you kids have fun.  We’ll be hanging out with the other grown-ups and getting some sleep.

Southwest Twice

So tomorrow I head out to SXSW along with most of the rest of the industry, just like everybody else.  There are, as usual, about two dozen sessions I want to see, all of which conflict with each other.  I’ll be on three panels, two Sunday and one Monday (as listed over at Complex Spiral), and will be doing book signings on Sunday around lunch time.  There will be a bookstore there, but if you already have a book of mine, bring that too.

Only a few days after I return from SXSW, I’ll be shipping out again for MIX06 in Las Vegas.  They’ve been running a “Remix MIX” design competition in the spirit of the CSS Zen Garden, and I’ve consented to be one of the judges.  I’m actually looking forward to MIX for a whole bunch of reasons, but at the top of the heap has to be a chance to try out IE7 and talk to the team members in person.  That’s three-quarters of the reason I’m going.  Also, I’m curious about Microsoft’s “Atlas” framework for AJAX development, but that’s more of a bonus reason.

Besides, if you look deeply enough, you discover there are really only two “scenarios” (a.k.a. tracks) at the conference:

  • Next Generation Browsing Experience
  • Beyond the Browser

Yeah, I think I’d like to know what they’re thinking.  So off to Vegas I go, once I’m back from Texas.

Yee haw.

IE7 Revs Up

I don’t think I can say this without sounding smug, so I’ll just say it: this is what I was talking about.  If you went ahead and tried to hack your site so it worked in the previous beta, I’m sorry, but I tried to warn you.

It’s also why I said CSS hacks weren’t necessarily dead yet, or even likely to cause real problems, because there’s every chance that IE7 will be close to being another Firefox (in the standards-support and layout-behavior senses).  We can’t be sure of that yet, of course, but the results described by Molly are pointing in that direction.

Sure, we’d like to see a hack-free Web, but that point will not come until a few years after IE7 finally ships.  No, that’s wrong: we’ll never have a hack-free Web.  But we might reach a time where cross-browser presentation has become not only commonplace, but subconsciously assumed, like our current expectation that a browser will know how to handle hyperlinks.

DevEdge Content Returns

Once was lost, now is found: “Images, Tables, and Mysterious Gaps” has been resurrected from the Great Bit Bucket Beyond and given new life on Mozilla.org.  In fact, it looks like just about all the technical articles written by me and the other members of TEDS are available.  Look through the full list of CSS articles, for example.  You can dig into any number of topic areas from the main page of the Documentation section.  (Scroll down to the “Mozilla Developer Center Contents” headline.)

Some other popular articles from my Netscape days gone by:

So far as I’ve been able to determine, some of the less technical pieces, like the interviews with Doug Bowman and Mike Davidson, are not available.  Not now, anyway.  Perhaps one day that too will change.

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