The Web and the UI

I can picture a few people at Macromedia laughing out loud after reading Dave Hyatt's views on CSS (and rolling on the floor after reading the comments).

There has been a heated debate around CSS lately with numerous thoughtful comments and a few rants that are, well, rants. As Phil Ringnalda writes it, it is last week news and no one detains the absolute truth that would make contenders evil. And we'll always have the CSS Zen Garden.

But Dave's remarks reminded me of something I've heard repeatedly from usability people: the experience you can get from a web browser, in terms of user interface, moved us a decade backward. I believe I heard live from Jakob Nielsen himself -- yes I've attended a Nielsen/Tognazzini show once, flame me if you want -- that browsers "wasted ten years of UI usability knowledge". Don't tell me that he earns a living thanks to that, the point is: web standards are still, in the UI realm, way behind what can be achieved for desktop applications.

You may object that the web is not about applications but content and there are lots of work to do regarding the semantic aspects of it. I disagree with that because it is not an either/or proposition, the semantic web does not exclude web applications. Take a look at the Apple music store. It is all about selling content (music) to an audience. What is the key success factor Apple did work on to achieve this, that convinced the music majors to jump ship and got noticed by everybody? The user experience: how simple and straightforward the service is compared to existing online stores, and how much you can do beyond just browsing and buying. Do you see a web browser somewhere? None, it all happens in a desktop application: iTunes. iTunes is a remarkable example of a web application (it has notions of URLs, uses Internet standards for communication), and one that, if it proves successful enough, will mark a cornerstone in web development.

I am not trying to undermine anything or anyone's work. The web browser is, and will remain IMO a very important piece in the web user arsenal. The web standards are perennial and getting ubiquitous. Whatever I think about XHTML/CSS, I know this is the way to go and most of the debate out there is more due to the friction consecutive to real or imaginary pressure felt by those who are called names (old schoolers) by some CSS evangelists, than due to any real show-stopper (there is no Y2K bug for HTML4). But the limits of web browsers, consequences of both the standards' own limits and the quality of their implementation by software developers, are more palpable as the average user gets more demanding.

The definition of the upcoming XHTML2 standard raised fears that the normative body had lost track with its user base (the content producers). It seems this is not the case and the W3C HTML group is listening to feedback. Are we seeing a similar problem with CSS and designers, UI experts, browsers and applications developers?

The padawan would like to be enlightened, meanwhile he thinks that Macromedia and its RIA concept in Flash has a few good years ahead and wonders where Microsoft want to go today.

mensuelles Archives

Recent Entries

  • Steve Jobs

    "Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because...

  • Your privacy on MOTOBLUR by Motorola

    After the Nokia Ovi Store carelessness, it's now Motorola who's allowing strangers to get access to your private information on their MOTOBLUR portal. Exactly like...

  • How to resume a broken ADC download

    (I'm documenting this trick for myself to remember, but it can be useful for others…) Apple, on its Apple Developer Connection site, has a bad...

  • WTF is this ‘myEventWatcherDiv’ doing in my web?

    All of a sudden I started to find the following line in most of the web pages I was browsing, including ones I made where...

  • Your privacy on Nokia Ovi Store

    My friend Adam Greenfield recently complained about the over-engineering culture at Nokia: I was given an NFC phone, and told to tap it against the...