Web standards secret sauce

When Apple chose KHTML rather than Mozilla Gecko as the basis for its Safari browser, some of us in the web standards community scratched our heads. Sure, KHTML, the rendering engine in Konqueror, was open-source and standards-compliant. But, at the time, Gecko’s standards support was more advanced, and Gecko-based Mozilla, Camino, and even Netscape 6 felt more like browsers than Konqueror. Gecko browsers had the features, the comparative maturity, and the support of the standards community. Apple’s adoption of KHTML, and creation of a forked version called Webkit, seemed puzzling and wrong.

Yet, thanks largely to the success of the iPhone, Webkit (Apple’s open source version of KHTML) in the form of Safari, has been a surprising force for good on the web, raising people’s expectations about what a web browser can and should do, and what a web page should look like. Had Apple chosen Gecko, they might not have been able to so powerfully influence mainstream consumer opinion, because the fully formed, distinctly mature Gecko brand and experience could easily have overshadowed and constrained Apple’s contribution. (Not to mention, tolerating external constraint is not a game Apple plays.)

Just how has mobile Safari, a relative latecomer to the world of standards-based browsing, been able to make a difference, and what difference has it made?

The platform paradox

Firefox and Opera were wonderful before any Webkit-based browser reached maturity, but Firefox and Opera were and are non-mainstream tastes. Most people use Windows without thinking much about it, and most Windows users open the browser that comes with their operating system, again without too much thought. This doesn’t make them dumb and us smart. We are interaction designers; they are not.

Thus, the paradox: even though Firefox and Opera offered powerfully compelling visions of what could be accomplished with web standards back when IE6 offered a comparatively poor experience, Firefox and Opera, not unlike Linux and Mac OS, were platforms for the converted. If you knew enough to want Firefox and Opera, those browsers delivered features and experience that confirmed the wisdom of your choice. If you didn’t know to want them, you didn’t realize you were missing anything, because folks reading this page sweated like Egyptian pyramid builders to make sure you had a good experience despite your browser’s flaws.

The power to convert

Firefox and Opera are great browsers that have greatly advanced the cause of web standards, but because they are choices in a space where most people don’t make choices, their power to convert is necessarily somewhat truncated. The millions mostly don’t care what happens on their desktop. It’s mostly not in their control. They either don’t have a choice or don’t realize they have one, and their expectations have been systematically lowered by two decades of unexciting user experience.

By contrast, the iPhone functions in a hot realm where consumers do make choices, and where choices are badges. Of course many people are forced economically to choose the cheap or free phone that comes with their mobile service. But many others are in a position to select a device. And the iPhone is to today’s urban professional gym rat what cigarettes and martinis were to their 1950s predecessors. You and I may claim to choose a mobile device based on its features, but the upwardly mobile (pardon the pun), totally hot person standing next to us in the elevator may choose their phone the same way they choose their handbag. And now that the iPhone sells for $99, more people can afford to make a fashion decision about their phone—and they’ll do it.

Mobile 2.0

Although there were great phones before the iPhone, and although the iPhone has its detractors, it is fair to say that we are now in a Mobile 2.0 phase where people expect more than a Lynx-like experience when they use their phone to access the internet. Mobile Safari in iPhone, along with the device’s superior text handling thanks to Apple and Adobe technologies, is changing perceptions about and expectations of the web in the same way social networking did, and just at the historical moment when social networking has gone totally mainstream.

Oprah’s on Twitter, your mom’s on Twitter, and they’re either using an iPhone or a recently vastly upgraded Palm or Blackberry that takes nearly all of its cues from the iPhone. Devices that copy the iPhone of course mostly end up selling the iPhone, the same way Bravo’s The Fashion Show would mostly make you miss Project Runway if you even watched The Fashion Show, which you probably haven’t.

Safari isn’t perfect, and Mobile Safari has bugs not evident in desktop Safari, but Webkit + Apple = secret sauce selling web standards to a new generation of consumers and developers.

Read more

  • Web Fonts, HTML 5 Roundup: Worthwhile reading on the hot new web font proposals, and on HTML 5/CSS 3 basics, plus a demo of advanced HTML 5 trickery. — 20 July 2009
  • HTML 5: Nav Ambiguity Resolved. An e-mail from Chairman Hickson resolves an ambiguity in the nav element of HTML 5. What does that mean in English? Glad you asked! — 13 July 2009
  • In Defense of Web Developers: Pushing back against the “XHTML is bullshit, man!” crowd’s using the cessation of XHTML 2.0 activity to condescend to—or even childishly glory in the “folly” of—web developers who build with XHTML 1.0, a stable W3C recommendation for nearly ten years, and one that will continue to work indefinitely. — 7 July 2009
  • XHTML DOA WTF: The web’s future isn’t what the web’s past cracked it up to be. — 2 July 2009

[tags]webdesign, webstandards, design, standards, browsers, CSS, webkit, gecko, mozilla, firefox, opera, safari, mobile, mobilesafari, iphone[/tags]

Apple OS X 10.5.7 overheats some Macs

Robert Black was right. OS X 10.5.7 adversely affects the internal heat management of some iMacs (and apparently also some MacBooks), causing the machines to overheat. Overheating, in turn, leads to such problems as freezes during iCal sync; freezes during iTunes sync; and the inability of attached hard drives to complete a backup.

Blah blah

I confirmed this by installing smcFanControl and watching my Mac get hotter and hotter as it tried to complete a SuperDuper backup. Disk Utility confirmed nothing was wrong with the attached drive. Swapping cables proved a faulty cable was not to blame for previous failed backups. Maddeningly, the backup got within 4GB of completion before locking up due to the overheating of my iMac.

Not every iMac or MacBook is affected. It probably varies by factory run and by model. (My MacBook Pro, for instance, is fine.) Third-party stuff and Migration vs. Tabula Rasa System Install seems to have no bearing on whether or not your Mac will choke on the update.

Since even running smcFanControl at settings recommended by Robert Black and others doesn’t cool the iMac enough to finish a backup or verify the quality of the attached drives, it may not make sense to replace my external hard drives (as new drives will likely also fail as the iMac overheats during backup).

With smcFanControl in place, I can use my iMacs but not back them up.

Apple needs to release an update that fixes the hardware problems this one created.

(And someone else needs to install it before I do.)

[tags]OSX10.5.7, bugs, Apple, Macintosh, update[/tags]

Quick survey on OS X 10.5.7 bug triggers

Update: see OS X 10.5.7 overheats some Macs.

Fellow Mac users, let’s see if we can isolate the triggers of the OS X 10.5.7 blues. If we learn the cause, others may know whether it’s safe for them to update, and we may provide Apple’s engineers with a clue on how to fix the problem in a subsequent update.

Theory 1: Migration Assistant

My affected iMacs have systems that were migrated. That is, when I bought the machines in December 2007, after running them for a while as-is to ensure that they worked properly, I ran Migration Assistant to bring over applications, preferences, network settings, and so on from my previous work machine (a non-Intel white powerbook).

Blah blah

Theory: Possibly OS X 10.5.7 update becomes unstable in the presence of a leftover something migrated from an older system.

Test: If you’re suffering from the 10.5.7 blues, did you run Migration Assistant on the afflicted machine? Did you migrate from a non-Intel machine?

Theory 2: Third-Party Stuff

When something goes wrong with a Macintosh update, a third-party add-on is often the trigger. Here are the add-ons on my sufferin’ iMacs:

Items marked “removed!” were my initial suspects. After the update, iTunes froze on sync. I reckoned the iLike plug-in was to blame, and after removing it, was able to sync again for a while.

Then the Mac froze during an iCal sync, so I removed MenuCalendarClock.

But removing these little guys didn’t fix anything. Soon enough, even without these add-ons, the Macs were freezing during iTunes sync and during MobileMe iCal sync. Eventually they froze on any app, doing anything. (Only to inexplicably resume normal operation again for hours at a time. But enough of this.)

And you? If your Mac is misbehaving after running OS X 10.5.7 update, are any of these add-ons on the machine?

[tags]OSX, bugs, OSX10.5.7, 10.5.7, apple, software, updates[/tags]

OS X 10.5.7 update: unsafe at any speed

Update: see OS X 10.5.7 overheats some Macs.

Apple’s OS X 10.5.7 update is dangerously unpredictable. Although many Mac users have updated without incident, many others have had nothing but trouble. Friends’ problems range from dead hard drives to frazzled MacBooks to freezes and beyond. In my case, the update destabilized both my home and office iMacs and the backup drives attached to them. Symptoms include:

  • Multiple applications freeze inexplicably. Force-quitting does not work. The only way to move forward is to hold the power button for several seconds until the machine is forced to shut down.
  • The Finder quits mysteriously and cannot restart.
  • In normal mode, restarts time out (forcing you to hold the power button and pray no data was damaged or lost).
  • In safe mode, restarts freeze (forcing you to hold the power button and pray no data was damaged or lost).
  • The machines cannot communicate reliably with attached hard drives. (Backups fail in mid-activity. Attached hard drives disconnect themselves. Attached hard drives cannot be unmounted for repairs. And so on.)
  • Lower-case letters replace capital letters when pasting copied text from one application to another. Yes, really.

These problems affected two iMacs and three connected hard drives by various manufacturers in two locations on separate networks. The only connecting thread is the OS X update.

Friends and readers have recommended various familiar techniques to “fix” the problem, but none of them have worked for me. The proposed fixes include:

Shut down everything. Disconnect printers, remove drives, iPod docks, and so on, from the iMac. Restart the iMac.
If a remote device or connection were at fault, this would reveal it. No such luck.
Restart in single Mode (hold down Control-S), type “fsck – fy” at the command line, and type “reboot” after repairs.
This is readily doable, but fixes nothing. There is nothing to repair. The computer in Single Mode indicates that the hard drive is fine.
Reboot from the install disks, run Disk Utility, and repair the internal hard drive.
Same deal: there is nothing to repair. The internal hard drive is fine, according to Disk Utility.
Run Disk Utility on attached back-up drives, and hit “Repair” until the attached drives are fixed.
There is nothing to repair on attached back-up drives, either (even though they fail). When it isn’t failing to operate because “it is impossible to unmount the drive,” Disk Utility reports that attached back-up drives are fully operational. Although Disk Utility finds nothing wrong with attached drives, they fail mid-way through back-up; thus it is impossible to back up work or home Macs, making it likely that I will lose work or data. Symptoms affect all attached drives, regardless of manufacturer and model.
Restart in Safe Mode and run the Combination Installer.
I’ve done that, too; it does not fix the problem. The update is either unstable in itself, or incompatible with the Mac’s own hardware (or with some very common third-party system addition).

And lots more stuff.

Twitter and the Apple forums contain the complaints of users whose computers have gone blooey after installing the update. Apple, of course, does not respond to these complaints.

At the moment, my options are:

  1. Put up with the freezes and quitting and the inability to back up my work, and trust that Apple will issue a system update soon that returns stability to my machines, and that I won’t lose work or data in the meantime. Or…
  2. Reinstall the original operating system from any installation disk. Run the combo updater. Test for two days to see if the system operates. Connect printers and backup drives. Test for two more days to see if all is well. Then painstakingly reinstall Photoshop, Illustrator, Office, and so on.

With one option, I’m continually frustrated and risk losing my work. With the other option, I lose four or five days reinstalling and testing operating systems, updates, and software.

I choose Apple’s products because they are elegant in every aspect of their design—especially the design of the user experience. Screw-ups like this update are the antithesis of the normal Apple user experience. While no one deliberately decided to make an unusable update, and while probably no one will die as a result, it’s still a very frustrating situation.

SuperDuper! Mac Backup

Even if your computer craps out, there’s no reason to lose your work. Rated five stars on VersionTracker,  SuperDuper! is the dead-simplest and most reliable backup program for Macintosh I know. With a click, it makes a fully bootable backup of your hard drive. If disaster strikes your data, or if someone steals your laptop, you can boot and restore from the cloned drive.

SuperDuper runs on Intel and Power PC Macs, and is compatible with Time Machine under Leopard. Download and use it forever for free, or buy for US $27.95 to unlock scheduling and Smart Update. (Smart Update copies only the data that has changed since your last backup, enabling you to backup your hard drive in minutes instead of hours. Which means you’ll actually get into the habit of running the backup program every day. Which means you’ll never lose your work. Best $27.95 you’ll ever spend.)

Update Jun 3, 2009

Ironically enough, this morning, a routine backup failed. SuperDuper immediately presented me with a simple “report the problem” form that included a log of everything that had happened on my system. I filled out the form and hit SEND. Within 30 minutes, I had an email from Shirt Pocket Support diagnosing the problem:

It looks like your destination volume failed during the backup. Here’s some stuff from your system log that shows the error in progress: [etc.]

There were also simple instructions on how to test (and possibly fix) my backup drive.

There was even a note about some scripting additions carried over via migration that were likely no longer working on my Intel Mac.

This is unbelievable service.

To anyone who thinks this is a paid ad, don’t be silly (or insulting). I really love this product and this company. You will, too.

[tags]superduper, backup, program, mac, macintosh, osx, os x, apple[/tags]

Ready For My Closeup

Ready For My Closeup

DanielByrne [warning! Flash site with JavaScript auto-expand full-screen window] came to Happy Cog‘s New York office to shoot me for an upcoming feature story in .Net Magazine, “the UK’s leading magazine for web designers and developers.”

What can I say? I’m a sucker for the gentle touch of a make-up pad. Or of anything, really. I love this photo (shot by Byrne with my iPhone) because it captures the fact that I’m still really a four-year-old. It also shows what a genuine photographer can do with even the humblest of tools.

[tags]photos, photography, shoot, danielbyrne, photographer, zeldman, jeffreyzeldman, profile, bio, interview, .net, .netmag, .netmagazine, .netmagazineUK, myglamorouslife, iphone, candid, shoots, shots, Apple[/tags]

Phoneless

Two weeks out of warranty, my iPhone 1.0 becomes a turnip.

Cost to replace an out-of-warranty iPhone 1.0 with a refurbished version of the same model: $199.

Minimum wait time to receive the $199 replacement at the 57th Street Apple Store: two hours. That’s 120 minutes, folks.

Can I leave and come back? No.

Cost to replace my old iPhone with a new model: also $199.

Minimum wait time to receive the new model at the 57th Street Apple Store: one hour.

I don’t want the new model but one hour is better than two.

Alas, though I’ve got a dead phone, I also have a hungry toddler. I can’t wait here that long.

The Apple Genius recommends that I make an appointment and come back.

First available appointment? Tuesday.

Today is Saturday. My phone, my connection to the world, is dead. I can’t replace it at the Apple Store unless I devote the afternoon to the project.

Lightbulb: AT&T stores sell iPhones. There are AT&T Stores all over this city. I don’t have to wait in this airless giant gerbil cage all day!

Availability of iPhone at nearest AT&T Store: nil.

How about at this other AT&T Store? Nope.

Or this one? No iPhones here either.

A tropical storm hits New York, ending my quest, sending me home soaked and phoneless.

I will have to go back to the Apple Store some other day, and queue as if for Madonna tickets.

I love this phone, but I’m starting to have my doubts about the company that makes it.

[tags]apple, iphone, applestore, scarcity[/tags]

In the bag

Early tomorrow, I leave for San Francisco. Headed into my laptop bag, along with my MacBook, are…

  • An iPod Classic containing 8624 “songs” (I like music) and 46 “movies.” Sample titles: A Mighty Wind, A Night at the Opera, Helvetica, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Lost in Translation, North by Northwest, Rushmore, Spirited Away, Stardust Memories, Stranger Than Paradise, Swing Time. The iPod also provides two days of interstitial music for the conference.
  • Power and stage adapters for all gear.
  • The latest issue of Macworld.
  • One or more novels (haven’t decided which; I always travel with at least one great book I’ve read before, and it’s always a new experience).

In my carry-on bag, in place of the usual dress shoes and gym shoes, I’m packing Crocs. It’s not my normal travel or presentation attire, but my foot (although much better) is still a bit out of whack, and you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.

See some of you in San Francisco and the rest of you here and there.

[tags]sanfrancisco, airtravel, iphone, ipod, apple[/tags]