Thursday 31 March 2005

Interview with Håkon Wium Lie

Håkon Wium Lie is the CTO of Opera Software and in 1994 proposed the idea of CSS. Håkon is as deeply involved with the Web and with CSS as anyone can possibly be. Recently, he contacted WaSP to ask whether we could host the Acid2 test, which we agreed to do. Our role is to help build, publish, and promote the test for all browsers for CSS 2.1 compliance. Acid2 will be a free and public resource for any browser or user agent developer and any web developer as we all move toward improving CSS support and fixing existing bugs in our work.

In this interview, I ask Håkon to share some of his experiences and insights into the history of HTML and CSS, the challenges and triumphs at Opera, mobile devices and microformats, and the reasons standards mean so much to the current and future Web.

MH: Håkon, many people know you as CTO of Opera Software. But the critical work you’ve done goes back to the early days, and many people working with Web standards don’t realize that you are essentially the “father” of CSS. Can you talk a little bit about those early experiences, and how they’ve shaped your thinking both for today and for the future?

HL: I stumbled across the Web in 1992. I joined the www-talk mailing list in September that year while working for Norwegian Telecom Research. This was before Mosaic and when HTML was a text-only language. Still, a critical mass of talented people saw the beauty of the underlying system. When Marc released Mosaic in early 1993, pictures entered the web and it suddenly became much easier to demo. Even managers could see the potential!

However, pictures were also a threat to the web. Designers started to encode text in images in order to achieve certain fonts or other special effects. In order for HTML to remain a logical markup language (as opposed to a presentational language) a style sheet language was needed. So, the motivation for developing style sheets was twofold: we wanted to give authors the presentational effects they craved, while stopping HTML from sliding down the ladder of abstraction to become a presentational language.

One important observation I made along the way was that both image and text were important for the web. Images are more appealing aesthetically, and most people will prefer a visually rich presentation to a sparse text-based one. Text, on the other hand, can be processed in a meaningful way by computers. Computers can search text and analyze its content. Google and friends have shown us wonderful things to do with text and I think there is much mileage left.

“Most people will prefer a visually rich presentation to a sparse text-based one. Text, on the other hand, can be processed in a meaningful way by computers.”

MH: The Opera browser has not been without its struggles, despite best efforts to keep it standards-aware, low-cost with a free ad-supported version, and very lightweight. Can you point to the features in Opera that you think are particularly strong and those that have remained problematic?

HL: My favorite feature is OperaShow, which instantly turns Opera into a PowerPoint-like presentation engine. It’s fully based on standards, and it extends the reach of the web from a scrollable canvas to a paged presentation. Also, I’m very proud of the work we have done to display web pages on small screens. So Opera covers the whole range, from big to small screens.

Along the way we have struggled much with “Dynamic HTML”. There were no standards to guide efforts in the beginning and we had to reverse-engineer many pages. Then the DOM came along and things started to improve. It has taken much work, but we’re now seeing the hard work pay off: HTML, CSS, JavaScript and the DOM can be used to build interoperable web applications.

“Along the way we have struggled much with “Dynamic HTML”. There were no standards to guide efforts in the beginning and we had to reverse-engineer many pages. Then the DOM came along and things started to improve.”

MH: Many people are unaware of Opera’s reach. One example is the rendering engine in Macromedia Contribute. While many observers feel Opera has failed as a browser, the point could easily be made that Opera simply has reached a different audience, one that is in essence hidden from the general user but very obvious when one looks at your strategic partners. Could you comment on Opera’s involvement as integrated software within other applications?

HL: We think of Opera as a success on the desktop, after all we’re the best-selling browser there. And, we have about 20 million users, I believe. Recent innovations in Opera8 on the desktop are support for voice input/output and native support for SVG.

But, I didn’t answer your question. Indeed, our rendering engine is used in several authoring systems. It’s a great way of making sure pages are tested in Opera right from the beginning. A big announcement in coming up in April, and I look forward to saying more about it at that time.

MH: Taking the previous question to another level, one of the things that has long interested standards-based developers such as myself is the goal of extending our reach to alternative devices: PDAs, cell phones and so forth. Opera appears to be doing amazing things in this area. Do you think this is the “next big thing” for Opera and for those of us in development at large?

HL: I think the mobile area is very important. It’s important for the web to escape Microsoft’s grip on the desktop. And, it’s important for the mobile telecommunications industry to embrace the web to ensure there is interesting content on the wonderful devices they are making.

For Opera it’s an enormous business opportunity. Already, there are more Opera browsers on mobile phones than there are Microsoft browsers.

MH: As a pioneer of the Web, what’s your opinion as to how it should progress? Set aside any preconceived ideas such as ‘semantic web’ or ‘convergence.’ What I would like readers to know about is the vision you personally hold for the Web as it will become rather than as it is today.

“I plan to spend the rest of my life on the web.”

HL: The web is actually in pretty good shape and I don’t really want to see it change quickly, rather I’d like to see some graceful evolution. I plan to spend the rest of my life on the web and I want it to remain a place where a broad range of people can contribute ideas, content and applications. No single vendor should dominate, and no single organization should have control. Standards are key to achieving this and I think we have identified a set of standards that will last a long time: HTML, CSS, JavaScript and DOM will be the basic content standards in the foreseeable future. I think evolution on the web will be based on these formats, and this is what WHAT and AJAX do. We will also see a bunch of microformats
being developed, and that’s how the semantic web will be built, I believe.

Finally, I hope that future web formats can represent more than flat documents. I’d like for 3D models of all sorts of stuff to appear, starting with spare parts that I need. Along with 3D printers, this will enable localized production of stuff which is much healthier for the environment than moving stuff around. The web globalized information, and I hope it will also localize production.

MH: Thanks so much, Håkon.

Note: This interview is cross posted at WaSP. Thanks! -mh

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Posted by:   Molly | 17:15 | Comments (39)

Wednesday 30 March 2005

In Search Of: The Perfect Style Guide

DOCUMENTATION IS CRITICAL TO A WELL-RUN TEAM. For web designers, documentation often manifests in the form of a style guide. But how do you write a good one? Where do you find decent examples?

Recently, a reader wrote in and shared this bit:

I have decided that I really need to take some time and write a style guide for the Intranet site I maintain. The problem being that we are finishing a redesign and data scrub and
I want to make sure that those who follow will know how to achieve the same results on new pages.

I have searched the web over, and have not found a good template for a style guide though. Most are either too vague or apply to the entire marketing strategy which my team is not involved in. Do you have any suggestions?

According to this reader, the NYC Public Library style guide was a little too broad (I like it but I, too, have found it limited) and that FSU had a pretty decent style guide but a little too marketing oriented for the reader’s tastes.

I agree that there’s a lack of strong style guide examples out there. So, got any tips on existing guides you like? How about effective style guide methods? Or perhaps even more important: Once you’ve got a style guide, how do you ensure people stick to it?

Let’s strategize on ways to best manage documentation practices.

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Posted by:   Molly | 00:54 | Comments (37)

Tuesday 29 March 2005

Trains Matter Much

On blue sheets twist and turn

Smell the tide the sweet and burn

Suddenly, the Erie rattles through

Shake the house

Shake the house

On the lower side

Rich, adorned

No smell just sterile

It’s prattle and then some

Suddenly, the Erie comes through

Shakes the house

Shakes it all over you

The hill is higher

Than at first you deduce

Stop at your wayside

Find not too much

Shake the house, shake it with force

I don’t care that you hate me

Trains matter more.

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Posted by:   Molly | 18:46 | Comments (26)

What’s Up with WaSP

WHAT’S UP WITH WaSP? Maybe we built a hive in your garage, or perhaps we stung you in an unsightly spot. We are truly sorry. We really promised to be a kinder and gentler kind of WaSP. But then again some of my country’s presidents promised the same thing.

So let me wake up from my nap and tell you this: WaSP is buzzing about. Yes, as is typical to our nature, we stung a few folks while breaking out of our hive, but we’ve cooled off now, and look at all the stuff that’s going on as a result of recent activity:

  • Acid2 Task Force. The acid2 test is for all web browsers seeking to check CSS 2 compliance. WaSP is hosting this test. Browsers, start your rendering engines . . . here we go!
  • Macromedia Dreamweaver Task Force. The Macromedia Dreamweaver Task Force is revitalized and the focus is standards and accessibility all the way. Look forward to some amazing developments from Macromedia and this group.
  • Assistive Device / Accessibility Task Force. The group whose time has been long overdue.
  • Microsoft Task Force. Microsoft and WaSP representatives in a round-table discussion about the next generation of Microsoft software. Thank you Robert Scoble.
  • Emergent Technologies Study Group. A group of WaSPs are forming to study and report on emergent (oh, okay, and re-emergent technologies) like XMLHttpRequest and report back findings. Look for Drew McLelland, Simon Willison and others to be heading up this initiative.

Other groups at work at WaSP:

  • The Mobile Task Force. Dedicated to documenting mobile and alternative device development.
  • The CMS Task Force: An upcoming group documenting and working with CMS developers to assist in the support and implementation of web standards within CMS products.

What do you want to see at WaSP? Answer here.

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Posted by:   Molly | 12:36 | Comments (25)

Monday 28 March 2005

Paul Hester RIP

PAUL HESTER HAS TAKEN HIS LIFE. Only 46 years old, the Crowded House drummer has hung himself from a tree in a park. With two children and a seemingly happy life, clinical depression appears to be the cause.

I’m a long time fan of Crowded House and the Finn Brothers, this loss is a hard one.

Rest in Peace, Paul. And thank you for the music.

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Posted by:   Molly | 17:59 | Comments (50)

Sunday 27 March 2005

Music Me

picture of me today, from my webcam

MUSIC ME. Here I am back at home, sorry about the over-exposure.

See my cute old iMac in the background? Still serves me while testing OS 9 stuff.

I’m looking for great new music mixes for my next adventures.

What have you got music-wise?

Please share and thank you always . . .

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Posted by:   Molly | 16:31 | Comments (32)

Saturday 26 March 2005

Speaking of the Flickr Stream

SPEAKING OF THE FLICKR STREAM, I think Flickr’s URL schemes are like Coors Beer:

“This ain’t no downstream URL, we pissed in it right here.” – anonymous Coors drinker

Developers please make sure your code has escaped ampersands! This stuff smells bad:

Whatever apps you’re writing, the markup generated should be this:

There! All it takes is a little detergent to get that nasty beer smell out.

(Line breaks in URLs mine, for clarity)

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Posted by:   Molly | 14:08 | Comments (12)

Head in the Clouds

SOMETIMES AIR TRAVEL DOESN’T SUCK. And here’s the visual proof – two beautiful shots of the sun setting over San Francisco, from about 24,000 feet.

This one is my favorite:

amazing sunset view from airplane

In this one, I really like how you can see the cloud formations that aren’t as detailed in the photo above. Also, see if you can spot the California coastline below the clouds:

detail of cloud view from airplane sunset

Pretty awesome, huh?

Update: Mike Escutia asks for a hi-res version. Ethan mentions that you can get multiple sizes off my Flickr stream.

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Posted by:   Molly | 11:42 | Comments (10)

Friday 25 March 2005

Large Things in Small Places

NOW THAT I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION, I only was referring to trying to stuff even more schwag into my suitcase than it can handle.

Some more photos from Flickr: Doug’s office, AdaptivePath Birthday Party (which felt in part like a reunion from 1999), and old friends – we ate at the famous Greens restaurant which was, for a girl who likes her steak almost bloody, simply excellent.

This bird is goin’ home.

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Posted by:   Molly | 11:24 | Comments (5)

Wednesday 23 March 2005

I Want to Take My iPod Everywhere

I WANT TO TAKE MY iPOD everywhere.

It’s true. I nearly left it in a hotel room tonight and it freaked me out so bad to find it sitting there, all perfect and gleaming and beautiful and filled with music that I realized I am truly committed to my iPod.

Am I now officially a slave to a gadget?

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Posted by:   Molly | 06:34 | Comments (23)

Friday 18 March 2005

Post SXSW Questions

I HAVE SOME QUESTIONS for folks who attended SXSW this year:

  • Which was the most memorable panel you attended?
  • The most memorable keynote?
  • Do you think that SXSW is more a social or content-oriented event?
  • What would you like to see more of at SXSW?
  • What would you like to see less of at SXSW?
  • How would you describe your experience overall?
  • What will you remember about the food and drink you had while in Austin?
  • Do you have a “best moment” or two (or ten) that will stay with you forever?

Answer what you like, or add a question.

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Posted by:   Molly | 16:57 | Comments (34)

Robert Gives Molly the Finger?

IF YOU’VE BEEN FOLLOWING the buzz from yesterday about Robert Scoble and WaSP having a little spat, you’re bound to love this photo over at Milan’s blog as much as I did.

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Posted by:   Molly | 12:03 | Comments (4)

Under the Cloak of Anonymity

PEOPLE SAY THE DARNEDEST THINGS when they don’t have to provide their identity.

Consider this anonymous quote from a Windows developer in reference to CSS support in IE7:

“CSS 2.0 has a few nice features, but realistically, I don’t think it being in there makes much difference either way”

Now, if I’d said that in public, what would you say to me?

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Posted by:   Molly | 11:34 | Comments (16)

A Few Photos from SXSW

Here are a few photos I took at SXSW (on Flickr).

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Posted by:   Molly | 00:32 | Comments (4)

Wednesday 16 March 2005

The Acid2 Challenge

IN A PUBLIC EFFORT to encourage Microsoft to add as much CSS 2 support as possible as its developers embark on IE7, Håkon Wium Lie (CTO of Opera Software and the father of CSS) and the Web Standards Project have begun the development of a test suite, known as “Acid2.”

The suite, and challenge to Microsoft, has been announced today in an article written by Lie for C|NET, The Acid2 Challenge to Microsoft.

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Posted by:   Molly | 10:06 | Comments (25)

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