about standards, webdesign, usability and open source

This blog is dead…

As you can see from the next post, this blog hasn’t been updated in over three years. Instead of rebooting it yet again, I’ve found a new place to write at Medium and at the HTML5test blog. Or follow me at @rakaz.

H.264 video is now (slightly more) royalty free

Last week the MPEG-LA announced that it will not charge any royalties for streaming H.264 encoded video in the future. That does change much from the current situation. A couple of years ago the MPEG-LA already promised it would not change for streaming H.264 video until December 2011 and earlier this  year this was extended to December 2015. Now they removed that deadline altogether, making H.264 “royalty free”.

At least, that is what several websites concluded. Some even predicted that Mozilla and Opera would soon implement H.264, that it would become the default codec for HTML5 and that WebM was doomed. Well, things are not that simple…

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Problems with HTML5 video codec detection

In case you haven’t heard yet, Microsoft released a new preview release of Internet Explorer 9 with all kinds of great goodies we have been waiting for, including HTML5 video support. I did notice that this new preview didn’t score any bonus points on the HTML5 test for its video and audio support. This was pretty strange, because it should have scored bonus points for the H.264 codec. The article below is the result of a little investigation about why IE9 doesn’t pass the H.264 codec test and the problems I found in other browsers.
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HTML5 test updated: how well does your browser support HTML5 now?

Earlier today I’ve released a new version of the HTML5 test. The goal is still the same: to show an indication of how well your browser supports the upcoming HTML5 standard and related specifications.

It was clearly time for an updated test, because browsers were starting to get very close to the original maximum score of 160 points. If you disregard the codecs for a bit: a current nightly of Safari scores 95 out of 106. That is very close and demands a new challenge. The maximum of 160 was always intended to be a moving goalpost. The original test suite did not test for all of the new HTML5 features and I always intended to keep adding tests until the specification is stable and all features are properly tested.

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Microsoft talks big about HTML5 but shows very little

I’ve just downloaded the first Internet Explorer 9 platform preview and tried out the demos. And frankly I am confused. They mention HTML5 all the time in the press release and on the IE blog. There are even five dedicated HTML5 demos… Imagine my surprise that after running the HTML5 test, Internet Explorer scores exactly the same as IE 8: a meagre 19 out of 160.

Even the demos they list as HTML5 are misleading. None of them actually deal with HTML5. First we have some CSS stuff like border radius and selectors. Then they give us DOM Events and DOM CSS. And finally the HTML5 T-shirt Designer which deals with SVG and events and not what the name suggests: HTML5. None of these tests are even served with the HTML5 doctype.

Okay, they did officially announce HTML5 video support, but where is the rest? I almost get the feeling they use the word HTML5 more like a fancy buzzword than actually supporting the specification. Time may prove me wrong, and they may actually implement stuff for future previews, but at the moment it is simply not yet here.

Ogg Theora: 3 – H.264: 3

With the revelation that Internet Explorer 9 will support HTML5 video the score is tied. Opera and Mozilla are pushing for Ogg Theora. Safari and Internet Explorer will support H.264 and finally Chrome supports both.

Microsoft intends to ship Internet Explorer 7 with Windows Phone 7

Today Microsoft released the SDK for Windows Phone 7. It includes an emulator with a build of Internet Explorer. The useragent reported by the emulator is Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 7.0; Windows Phone OS 7.0; Trident/3.1; IEMobile/7.0). I’ve also ran the CSS selector test and the HTML5 test and both report the same numbers as the desktop version of IE7.

Unfortunately still no modern browser for Windows Phone 7 users, but at least it’s a big improvement over Windows Mobile 6.5 which shipped with Internet Explorer 6. Even though they could make a switch to a more modern engine like Webkit, I can understand their reluctance to use an externally developed engine. Still I’m quite curious why they didn’t ship their own standards compliant engine: the one used in Internet Explorer 8.  Anything less seems to indicate to me that phones are still a second class citizen within Microsoft itself.

The HTML5 Test

Want to know how well your browser supports HTML5? Try the HTML5 test and find out. Points are awarded for every HTML5 feature that is supported. Added together these points give a total score between 0 and 160. Compare multiple browsers or different versions of the same browser and find out which vendor is slacking off and which vendor is pushing the web forward.

Apart from the total score, the test also shows exactly which feature is supported and groups the results into easy to compare sections. Ideal for developers wanting to keep track of the capabilities of the browsers they develop for. In fact, the whole test started out just as a small internal tool for doing just that.

Of course there are some inherent problems with doing automated tests. The tests are only trying to detect if a feature is offered by the browser. It does not test the actual functionality of each feature. Also, the HTML5 standard and other related specifications are still in development. As the specification matures I hope to add new tests to test for these new features. The upper limit of 160 is a moving goalpost. Despite these shortcomings we hope that by quantifying the level of support users and web developers will get an idea of how hard the browser manufacturers work on improving their browsers and the web as a development platform.

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Opera Mini for the iPhone

Opera announced that they ported their Opera Mini browser to the iPhone and will be submitting it to the App Store. It isn’t the first third-party browser for the iPhone but all others were based on the standard Webkit component that is available in the SDK. Opera Mini is unique in this regard because it doesn’t use Webkit, but has its own renderer.

There is one potential problem though; Apple refuses to approve applications that have an interpreter or virtual machine that can run arbitrary code. This is exactly what you need if you have built your own renderer and want to render pages that contain JavaScript. The interesting part is that Opera did not port Opera Mobile, but Opera Mini. The latter doesn’t actually contain a full brown renderer.

It uses Opera’s servers to render the HTML pages and sends the result in a proprietary compressed binary format to the relatively light-weight client. This is exactly why Opera Mini works so well on all of those older mobile phones which don’t really have the speed to power a full brown renderer like their Opera Mobile product. Is it enough to bypass the SDK rules? Maybe, I’m quite curious how Apple is going to handle this.

95% of statistics are completely made up

After Vimeo announced that they would be support the H.264 codec for the HTML5 video beta test, Silvia Pfeiffer published a completely ridiculous article in which she claims that Ogg Theora is a better choice because it has a reach of 95% while H.264 only has 25%.

Given that only roughly 30% of all browsers actually support HTML5 video in one form or another this claim is something of a mystery. She actually gets the 95% not from actual browser support by counting how many browsers are able to use the Java Cortado player as fallback. Well wouldn’t it be fair to do the same for H.264 and also count Silverlight and Flash for possible fallback. That way H.264 would be available in 147% percent of all browsers… Ehh…

The reality simply is that if we want use HTML5 video we need to use H.264 with a fallback mechanism or encode our content in both Ogg Theora and H.264. Only using Ogg is simply not an option for many devices.

Re: The iPhone obsession

I’m afraid PPK has gone off the deep end again. While I value his work on documenting desktop browser quirks and mobile browsers immensely, it is getting more and more difficult to take him serious when he rants about the iPhone.

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iPhone webapps are not as bad as people think

Earlier this week Peter-Paul Koch wrote an article on how iPhone developers were stupid for not recognizing the potential of developing webapps. I agree with many of his points why webapps are a good alternative for native applications. I also agree that some of the apps that Apple currently ships with the iPhone could be replaced with webapps. That being said I do not believe that webapps can replace native apps altogether. Even Peter-Paul changed his mind on this point based on the comments in the original article.

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Adobe AIR 2.0 scores 90/100 on the Acid3 test

Which is pretty good considering Adobe does not support SVG and at least 6 of the failed test are related to SVG.

Firefox gets a brand new HTML5 parser

As of tomorrow the new HTML5 parser will be available in nightly builds:

If you are still comfortable with testing, download a trunk nightly build tomorrow, run it, navigate to about:config and flip the preference named html5.enable to true. This makes Gecko use the HTML5 parser when loading pages into the content area and when setting innerHTML. […] There is also another preference called html5.offmainthread that defaults to true. If you suspect a thread collaboration bug, you can try flipping the pref to false to make all parts of the HTML5 parser run on the main thread.

FYI, this doesn’t mean that Mozilla will support any of the new HTML5 features any better, it will just mean that the HTML that it tries to render is parsed according to rules specified by the HTML5 spec. The result is that the DOM generated by the parser would be the same in all browsers that support these rules.

Microsoft started work on IE 9 and is planning to give web developers what they want

According to Dean Hachamovitch in the announcement on IE Blog:

Our focus is providing rich capabilities – the ones that most developers want to use – in an interoperable way.  Developers want more capabilities in the browser to build great apps and experiences; they want them to work in an interoperable way so they don’t have to re-write and re-test their sites again and again. The standards process offers a good means to that end.

Apart from support for border-radius and a big speed up for the JavaScript engine, Microsoft did not announce any specific features. They did not make any promises to support HTML5 features such as video and canvas, but they did mention the Acid3 test as one of the areas they would work on. Again no promises that IE 9 would pass the Acid3 test, just that its score will continue to go up during the development.

Things are also looking good for a pet peeve of mine: CSS selector support. A couple of years ago I created an automated test suite for the CSS3.info website that would test support of almost all CSS selected in the CSS2.1 and CSS3 spec. At the time no browser passed the test, but that quickly changed and nowadays every browser except for Internet Explorer passes. IE 8 did improve the score quite a bit and added all of the CSS2.1 selectors. Work on the CSS selector engine in IE9 is apparently already almost finished, because the announcement on the IE Blog includes a screenshot of my test suite and clearly shows that it fails only 4 tests of the 578. It supports 43 of the 41 selectors, one is buggy and just one is unsupported.


The CSS Selector test is also mentioned in a MSDN Channel 9 video about IE 9: Standards and Interoperability.