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Friday, 27 January 2012 15:29

World Wide Web community fights back against iOS and Android

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As mobile applications running under proprietary platforms - iOS, Android, Windows, etc - proliferate the World Wide Web community has a vision to build equivalent functionality into the browser specifications so that application writers will have access to a much wider community without 'lock in' to any one platform.

HÃ¥kon Wium Lie, CTO at Opera Software, in an interview with iTWire in Sydney, said the World Wide Web community had now largely overcome its early hurdles of lack of standardisation and its main challenge now was the momentum behind platforms like iOS, which is a closed system, and even Android, which, he maintains, is still in practice tied to one vendor, Google.

(Wium Lie invented cascading style sheets (CSS) to which web pages owe much of their visual appearance. He was formerly with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and is still very actively involved in developing web standards. On his profile he says: "In English, my first name is unpronounceable, my middle name is shortened to a single letter, and my last name does not build confidence. I therefore go by the name howcome which, although grammatically dubious, is the closest pronounceable approximation. It also makes for great email addresses.")

"Standards are much more important now. Even Microsoft has been forced to do standards and they are now quite well supported on the Web," The real challenge now is not Microsoft's proprietary approach to the Web, it is the apps that you find on the Apple and Android devices.

"They are often web-centric in that they fetch and display information from the Web but they have a different user interface and the challenge for browsers is to be able to offer authors the same capabilities that the app developers have. But I have high hopes that the Web will be able to offer developers that same capability and the same opportunity to make money."

Wium Lie claimed that failure to achieve this openness would stifle innovation. "If we leave it to one company to own this and develop it further it forces consumers to buy that line of products and stops competition. We saw that in the 90s when Microsoft Windows had 90 plus percent of users and Microsoft owned the Office line of products. Innovation slowed to a glacial speed until the World Wide Web came along and shook things up," he said.

CONTINUED

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"But I can see a danger now of Apple and Google with their proprietary development taking a different approach and making developers sign up to their walled gardens."

The Web community's vision is quite different. "In the world we envisage you could put any browser onto your device and get apps that will run in any of those browsers. That needs cross browser support for web applications and that is something that is being worked hard on. All the browser companies are sitting around the same table to develop these specs and to make sure that when people write documents or applications they can get the same result in any browser.

"But it is still a problem to know what will be universally supported. People are saying 'You should tell us in advance'. But the problem is we cannot demand that people implement something: there is no requirement for a browser to support a particular feature and the specifications are not always clear. The good news is that browsers now tend to move in the same direction. When one implements something, others follow."

Despite these problems, Wium Lie concluded that the web environment had a huge advantage over any rival ecosystem. "The Web has enormous reach: there has never been another platform like for information distribution."

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