There’s been a lot of fuss recently about the state of the web. quirksmode got the party started by telling us to stop pushing the web forward. Enough, enough, there’s too much! From the other direction, The Verge points out it’s really only too much because Microsoft refuses to release IE for iPhone. Whatever. For the morbidly curious, two fairly long recaps are Stop blaming the web. Stop breaking the web. and What’s wrong with the web?
Mostly the focus has been on overwhelming cognitive load for developers and a worsening user experience for, uh, users. What about security? Or privacy? The things nobody cares about because they can’t be A/B tested. Let’s take a look at a few feature fuckups. Bear with me, I had to dig to find these examples, so some links could be as much as a month old.
There’s a thing called WebRTC. I’m not sure what I would do with it, but the NY Times decided to use it to retrieve your internal IP. I could live without this feature. Another feature is the battery meter so websites can lighten up when you’re running out of charge. Do those verge fuckers let you skip the bullshit when you’re at 25%? No, but that doesn’t stop others from using battery level as a fingerprint. What’s better than a browser that can upload files to a server? A server that can download files from a browser!
Of course, there are some security features in the mix, such as new HTTP headers. A dozen of them in fact. Because security by opt in works best.
I’ve observed that features are faults before. The browser is a document viewer, not an application framework. Interactive documents are great, but there’s a line between them and interactive applications. There was a time when the worst thing about your browser was the Java plugin. Now the worst things about your browser is that it is Java. Twenty years were spent trying to secure Java applets. Twenty years of sandbox bypasses, policy violations, filesystem escapes, and containment failures ensued. Now we’re going to do it all again in the browser. But this time we won’t make mistakes.
I wouldn’t normally bother with another doom and gloom post, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. WebKit now has pretty backdrop filters. So what? Well, making things look pretty sounds like something a document viewer would count as a core competency, as opposed to say, making telephone calls. It provides an interesting contrast with some of the more “useful” features previously mentioned.
It’s a natural extension of existing controls, such as opacity. The “glass” effect has been done before, by various operating systems. The risks are pretty well known. Worst case scenario, someone will write a blog post saying “I don’t like it.” Maybe (assuredly) some website will abuse it. Still seems better than hijacking scroll. Or disabling zoom. Or dozens of other features browsers have made available to web sites in recent years. (I admit, I may in the past have made some backhanded about “ooo, now with rounded corners”. What I wouldn’t give to return to a world where rounded corners were my most serious concern.) More like this, please!
Maybe the world doesn’t need shiny glass overlays for web site menus. But does it really need another way to play quake, either? I’d settle for a browser that makes web sites look good without spying on me. Is that a false dichotomy? Or just too much to ask for?