Apps to force Web into decline?

Who’s going to win the format war – iOS (Apple iPad) or Android? “What format war?” you may ask. Come on, it’s obvious. Some are saying that the web is either dying (dramatic) or at the least being impacted by the modern fashion of Apps, and these run on iOS or Android (mostly). Actually, by sales Apple is winning hands-down.

This IS a format war, because developers need to support one or other platform – or both – and users need to choose the platform that has the content they need, and there is some sense in it when databases contents are queried and displayed in Apps rather than on web pages.
Apple has the early advantage, and the cool factor. But it’s the most expensive and the most hassle to develop for, as Apps can only be sold through Apple. Android is a free-for-all. Apps can be sold through Google, or anyone else making them available for download in the future. It’s an open standard. The security implications of this are profoundly worrying, but this is another story.

So, running iOS is expensive, Android is insecure and neither are very compatible. That’s before you consider Blackberry and any requirement to run an App on your Windows or Linux PC.

But, I don’t think this is a conventional format war. It’s mostly software based, and open standards software might just win out here (and I don’t mean Android). People like paying for and downloading Apps. Web browsers can (technically) support Apps, using Java and the upcoming HTML5 in particular. Why target a specific operating environment when you can target a standard web browser and run on anything?

As an aside, HTML5 is sometimes hailed as something new and different when in fact it’s just evolution and tidying up. The fact is that HTML is cross-platform and will deliver the same functionallity as Apps. HTML5 simply standardises and simplifies things, making cross-platform more open-standard, so every browser will be able to view page content without proprietary plug-ins, including better support for mobile devices which lost out in the late 1990’s onwards when graphic designers decided HTML was a WYSIWYG language.

Some modern-day pundits will proclaim that data will be accessed more through Apps in the future, and the web has had its decade. Apparently a third of the UK is now using smart-phones. Whether this statistic is correct or not, they’re certainly popular and I’ll concede that Apps are here to stay. But in my vision of the future they won’t be running on iOS, Android or Blackberry – they’ll be written using HTML5 and run on anything. It’s platform independence that launched HTML and the web twenty years ago, and it’s what will see off the competition for the next twenty years.

Google’s Evil Browser policy

Gmail Fail

Google’s VP of Engineering (Venkat Panchapakesan) has published one of the most outrageous policy statements I’ve seen in a long time – not in a press release, but in a blog post.

He’s saying that Google will discontinue support for all browsers that aren’t “modern” from the end of July, with the excuse that is developers need HTML5 before they can improve their offerings to meet current requirements. “Modern” means less than three versions old, which currently refers to anything prior to IE8 (now that IE 10 is available on beta) and Firefox 3.5. This is interesting – Firefox 4 has just been released, I’m beta testing Firefox 5 with Firefox 7 talked about by the end of 2011. This will obsolete last month’s release of Firefox 4 in just six months. Or does he mean something different by version number? Anyone who knows anything about software engineering will tell you that major differences can occur with minor version number changes too so it’s impossible to interpret what he means in a technical sense.

I doubt Google would be stupid enough to “upgrade” it’s search page. This will affect Google Apps and Gmail.

The fact is that about 20% of the world is using either IE 6 or a similar vintage browser. Microsoft and Mozilla have a policy of encouraging people to “upgrade” and are supportive of Google. Microsoft has commercial reasons for doing this; Mozilla’s motives are less clear – perhaps they just like to feel their latest creations are being appreciated somewhere.

What these technological evangelists completely fail to realise is that not everyone in the world wishes to use the “latest” bloated version of their software. Who wants their computer slowed down to a crawl using a browser that consumes four times as much RAM as the previous version? Not everyone’s laptop has the 2Gb of RAM needed to run the “modern” versions at a reasonable speed.

It’s completely disingenuous to talk about users “upgrading” – it can easily make older computers unusable. The software upgrade may be “free” but the hardware needed to run it could cost dear.

It’ll come as no surprise to learn that the third world has the highest usage of older browser versions; they’re using older hardware. And they’re using older versions of Windows (without strict license enforcement). There’s money to be made by forcing the pace of change, but it is right to make anything older than two years old obsolete?

But does Google have a point about HTML5? Well the “web developers” who’s blog comments they’ve allowed through uncensored seem to think so. But web developers are often just lusers with pretensions, fresh out of a lightweight college and dazzled by the latest cool gimmick. Let’s assume Google is a bit more savvie than that. So what’s their game? Advertising. Never forget it. Newer web technologies are driven by a desire to push adverts – Flash animations and HTML5 – everything. Standard HTML is fine for publishing standard information.

I’ll take a lot of convincing that Google’s decision isn’t to do with generating more advertising revenue at the expense of the less well-off Internet users across the globe. Corporate evil? It looks like it from here.