Jul 13

Inputs, Integrations, Smart Services, and Ecosystem; The next iOS and Android battles

Apple, Google, Mobile, Tech Comments Off

WWDC and Google I/O have come and gone. At first I was disappointed with both, but then I sat back to think about what an amazing time we are in with mobile and computing. I don’t know about you, but I feel like the battle of the full touch screen is done, and now we move on. Android has caught up enough on the quality of display (although not “retina” displays such as housed by HTC One X are fantastic), and especially with Jellybean, the UI isn’t as jaggy and laggy as in the past. The hard work of battery drain and performance still continues, but it is also easily close enough. The Nexus 7 shows that Android tablets can compete too. Finally people can talk pro’s and con’s versus “er, why the hell would you buy that?”

All in all it feels like we are heading to another game of Brazil vs. Germany, both at the top of their game. Brazil has the amazing feel, taste, and style, and are also continuing to up their game with pace and strength. Germany has their organization and resource to bare, but also have growing cunning and quality. You look forward to watching the next game.

The next battles live in new inputs, integrations, smart services and ecosystems.


Touch has been somewhat nailed. We do have haptic feedback to look forward to in the future, and this has the chance of changing the game again. How will our typing productivity go up with haptics? How will it change gaming, or music instrumentation, or art?

Voice is the obvious big push. We are still pretty early here, but where Siri was good, Google has gone beyond. The speed of recognition has been outstanding, and once you get to a certain point where you can trust it, I think this will go far past the gimmick to full usage. I also feel like there is room for hybrid usage. When typing something you can tell your system to go into caps mode, or switch to the spanish keyboard, or what have you. Once voice is of a certain quality it all changes.

Then there are other new inputs. Having the camera giving us a Kinect experience on mobile. Who knows what else will come along that will enable us to get our ideas, requirements, and instructions to the computing device as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Oh, and of course there is Glass :)


With hardware Apple has the advantage of full integration (their own chips) and buying power. This means that they typically have the nicest hardware with the best overall package, AND they can do it for cheaper (this is very different to the Wintel generation where Mac couldn’t compete on price!).

Google has the advantage of Open, and giving consumers more choice (”I want a bigger screen”).

Smart Services

Google must be salivating on this one. Now that we have the basic integrations and inputs on great devices…. services can come in to solve user problems. We see this clearly with Google Now. The server can put together your location, your history/data, and your context to “do the right thing.” This is in the realm of magical, and although folks will freak out about privacy and “big brother knows too much!” the good side is that it can deliver humane results.

Google has the chops on the server, it is their DNA, so I expect them to push hard here. The more data you have to work with the better you can service the client, so as the data and the algorithms get better we will see more and more magic.


Android has a lot of applications. There is more of a push on all digital content. However, we are dealing with many wall gardens, which is frustrating for customers.

If a user has their content in iOS apps, and tons of music and movies in the iTunes locker, it can be hard to make a switch to an Android device. You can have the same feeling as if you have an amazing VHS collection and then a new betamax player comes out with some nice features that you would love to try.

Man, what a battle. We are finally at a place where the fight is competitive and I hope that each side keeps pushing and we continue to see a fantastic tug of war.

Jun 28

The Software Platform War; Seeing a cool VHS player with your betamax collection behind you

Apple, Google, Tech No Comments »

You can argue about iOS vs. Android. Ben would still come down on the iOS side, but you can see that he is at least thinking about it now. It is a debate. There used to be few to no features that iOS users wanted. Now there are plenty (from new: offline voice controls, to older: decent home screen w/ widgets and Intents).

It is fascinating to watch the old Steve Jobs All Things D interviews. At D2 in 2004 Steve talks about how, even though Apple is pretty good at the hardware thing, the differention is in the software. Folks can catch up on the hardware. Now, Apple has done an amazing job on the hardware, and their scale + deals + how they have taken so much of the work in house (e.g. their chips) has kept them mainly in the lead.

When I look at Jelly Bean I see some nice new features and a lot of important catch up (e.g. buttery scrolling and UI performance in general!) It also feels like most of the leaps in UX on the phone itself is to do with server side smarts. The Google Now work, and putting together info on “hey, head to the airport now! the traffic sucks”. This is great news for Google as they know the cloud and computing smarts. Apple has iCloud and is growing there too, but Google should enjoy fighting more of the battle in the cloud.

Even seeing new interesting features, I feel like I have deja vu from some old times. When I see the cool Nexus Q, it feels like I am looking at a great VHS recorder with interesting features…. but my collection is in betamax tapes. The digital lockers of Apple, Google, and Amazon are locking us in (even with some ability to get content out… like doing a tape to tape). It also feels like the days of having an Atari ST when friends had Amiga’s; ZX Spectrum vs. Commodore. It is frustrating to have to make a choice.

Competition may be good in that it will spur the horse along faster, but it sure can feel frustrating. That magical time when the content you wanted was all in the Web isn’t there in quite the same way (even with lockin on websites).

Until we get more hardware improvements (e.g. Glass) the battle field will be through client software and software in the cloud. An exciting battle for sure.

Dec 14

If Chrome OS perishes or even merges, it will be a sad day for the Web

Google, Mozila, Open Source, Open Web 4 Comments »

People have often commented on how strange it is that Google has two OSes in Android and ChromeOS. Some talk about how it is doing the “Microsoft thing” by setting up an internal competition, and Google is big enough to do that kind of thing.

There were many who saw that “the Web will eventually win”, but as Android’s numbers get larger and larger, others are pondering things. Is the timing off? Has Android gotten too large to let itself lose to Chrome OS? Is the app ecosystem for Chrome OS not up to snuff with Android (let alone iOS)?

If Google pulled the plug on Chrome OS it would feel like a bad day for the Web. Chrome OS needs push the entire Web forward. Chrome is adding features to WebKit and Chromium at a very healthy rate, and the Chrome OS pieces make sure that features that flush out the Web to rival native environments come along. Without the Chrome OS project being part of the whole Chrome ecosystem, that may not quite be the case.

There are some projects that Google should go long on, and some that should be experiments. You could argue that Wave was an experiment that didn’t warrant continued evolution, but Chrome OS should. It moves the Web forward.

The Web has a lot of huge benefits, but it is still hard at it going up against iOS, Android, and others. We need a lot of investment to give the Web the SDK that developers are striving for, so they can deliver compelling experiences. We aren’t there yet.

With Google and Chrome OS, HP and webOS, and even a lot of other players (e.g. RIM and its Web support, Nokia and its, etc etc) we are seeing a healthy double-take on taking the Web forward and making the next big platform truly multi-vendor.

“Merging” with Android is interesting. Android’s web stack has gotten better recently, but it is very much lacking, and you could argue that getting the Chrome/WebKit talent and putting it on the Android stack could do a lot for the Web, and maybe bring the Web up to be a true Android platform. That could be a good thing, but would it ever truly be a first class citizen compared to the “Java but not really Java” stack?

I truly hope that Google double downs on Chrome and Chrome OS, and gives it time to have the Web come along for the next ride as more than the ghetto that some would like to see it become.

If not, time for Mozilla to create a Web OS :)

Aug 05

Google Wave’s Goodbye

Google, Tech 2 Comments »


I remember talking to a friend who joined Google and the Wave (then Walkabout) teams in Sydney. He talked about how he was excited to push the Web in crazy new ways and that he was shocked at how far they had gone. He also said “but I have no idea if people will use this.”

Google-haters will make fun of the fact that Wave hasn’t been a commercial success. “See! They are a 2 hit wonder! Search and Ads!” However, I think that Eric’s spin rings partly true. Google had the balls to do it. They let Lars and an awesome set of engineers take a run and rethinking the way that we communicate.

This is an incredibly hard proposition. Many people live in their email (I know, I know, the kids live in FB mail right?). I find myself loving a Gmail plugin whilst never getting into Wave. Incremental, evolutionary improvement often wins on the Web. The revolutions are hard, but that doesn’t mean that people should stop trying them… and Google has the $ and the need to scale their businesses.

Wave, as well as giving great demo, has brought a lot of cool technology into the commons. Other projects like Novell Pulse and the like are using it. When I was working on Bespin I really wanted to see a world in which Bespin could run on top of the operational transform abilities of Wave. Good things will come of Wave. The engineers have learned a ton, and that will go throughout the company to their other products. Making Gmail incrementally better will be huge. There is the large Google Buzz team making a run for social (a touch play when competitors have massive mindshare and user bases).

I also wonder about Etherpad. That great team shipped off to Sydney to join Wave. I love Etherpad. I still use it at typewith.me and at other clones when that goes down. The vision of Etherpad was smaller than Wave, but incredibly useful. I hope those guys land well. The entire Wave team is top drawer. They were ahead of the game this time around …. and timing is everything.

May 19

What should the future of Web App Stores be?

Google, Tech with tags: 2 Comments »

NOTE: These are my random thoughts on Web App Stores and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts of Palm. Don’t read anything into this :)

App Stores. Catalogs. Markets. Gardens. They have been an incredibly hot topic ever since the success of the iPhone App Store. Everyone has wanted to own and control an app store ever since, for many different reasons. Not all of them are good. Not all of them can extract from the App Store experience.

With that, today Google unveiled a Chrome Web Store. Many folks have talked about how the Web, and the Open Web, could benefit from an app store. At a high level, the Web should give developers great options to distribute and monetize (if they so wish) their products, projects, and abilities.

There was a phase where people assumed that Internet meant “everything would be driven to be ‘free’”, and the model to make money is ads. Ads can potentially be a great avenue depending on your product, but people have always been willing to part with money to get value (or perceived value) back… and it shouldn’t be too shocking to have see that play out again via app stores. Deliver great experiences and they may come. There is a lot to be said about “expectations” though, and I feel for some of the business models that are in trouble (media etc).

So, it would be nice if a developer could build something useful, stick a price tag on it, and sell it… using great distribution channels. One model for this is to package the application in a way that works in the distribution channels (e.g. PhoneGap, Titanium, or for us on webOS…. natively) but surely we can do better?

When you look at what an app store is, it consists of many pieces indeed.

For example,


Application Platform

This is the set of APIs and technology that you can use to build your applications. We feel strongly that having many fragmented devices with their own set of APIs, and thus their own platform, is a path to madness. To fix that, we need a unifying platform. We could unify on a proprietary platform (e.g. Flash, Cocoa, Silverlight/.NET, or what have you) or we could learn from history and honour the very lucky place that are in as an industry, and choose Open standards… and in concrete, the Web.

The Chrome Web Store very much honours this. Their apps are just Web apps. This is fantastic and a big step forward. The fact that you could take the same codebase and ship it in a store that runs in Chrome and other browsers (and web OS’s :) is great news.

But this is only one level of the stack.

Application Packaging

How do you package up your application to place in a store? Chrome has a prelim crack at this with their crx format that we have seen via Chrome Extensions. There are also others:

W3C widgets, Android, webOS, Nokia WRT, and more. Libraries like PhoneGap already have to deal with this world. We need scripts and tools to navigate this world. In the short term lets create and use those tools, but how about all getting together and making a format that we can all live with and extend in the right ways?


How do you distribute your apps? Right now you either: a) put up a website and folks find you (via search {and thus SEO}, the social web, and links), b) put an application into a store itself.

The Web won on distribution. AOL couldn’t hold back the tide. Everything was Out There. Do we really want one or two companies in charge of what gets Out There? There is certainly value to curation, and finding applications via places you trust, but I personally want to see us solve the problem is a distributed open way. No entity should own the pipe. There should be no “right way” to censor or review applications. Different systems can choose values. Ideally they are transparent, and consumers can then choose where they want to look for the app content.


If we had a standard format for “installable web apps” a lot of good can happen. If we had a standard format, we could annotate the Web with it. Browsers could consume it (e.g. App Discover and the talk on just this.) and search engines could index it.

If I am on a Web site that has an application available, the browser should let me know. If I do a Google search, a one box should tell me about the matching apps for the platforms that I care about.

Anyone could create a merchandising experience and have access to apps to search for. We can go beyond that too of course. We can have web hooks that ping services with information about applications that have been created. A meta service would crop up that looks for the data and then pings the various Web app stores, just like we saw with trackbacks and the like.

There is still a ton of room to innovate in discoverability. Smarter searching that ties deeper than matching on the content will kick in.


Having access to the application data is important. The Palm ecosystem shares full feeds of the data from the catalog and this allows anyone to merchandize the content. They can be creative and present the right content to the user. There is a lot of innovation to be done here. Ideally, someone could create a great new social algorithm and have it run against all of the web apps out there. Right now, the stack is monolithic and we only have basic merchandising needs in most of the ecosystems. What about affiliate systems and the like which could enable innovation here?


How do you pay for a good. How does the developer get paid for the good. This is an obviously crucial layer. Apple has done very well because people already had iTunes accounts coming into the world of the iPhone. In a distributed model, users could choose to fulfill via Amazon, or Paypal, or Checkout, or SimpleBank (one day right al3x? :)

And more….

We haven’t even gotten into identity, single sign-on, reputation systems, and how reviews can be shared on the same applications in different stores. There is so much to be done here.

Looking forward, where does this next step take us? Is there a path where web applications themselves are back to just being websites that can live in various stores, and a pay gate can be setup in an easy way?

I can’t wait to see how this plays out. We could all go off and build ivory towered app stores, or we could come together and work out a better way. Are you in?

Feb 01

Google isn’t Evil. Flash isn’t Dead; Thank god the Open Web doesn’t have a single vendor

Adobe, Apple, Google, Tech 25 Comments »


Steve Jobs didn’t hold back when talking about Google and Adobe. That is great. Life is so much more fun when people speak their mind. I remember hearing a story when Sir Steve was asked why mac keyboards where the way they were. He grabbed a PC keyboard and started to rip out “stupid keys” (print screen, F keys, and the like) and swore a lot.

We love to paint with broad black and white brushes these days don’t we? Whenever I hear people talking about Google being “evil” or not…. I sit back and think about how interesting it is that companies become “people”, especially in this country.

It makes sense when you look up Corporation:

Corporations are recognized by the law to have rights and responsibilities like actual people.

That may have been a convenient (and often almost genius) abstraction by lawyers, but it is screwed up. It feels like the times when you use inheritence in a way that isn’t a ISA relationship, but it does kinda make the code nice. We have all done that, until we learned to favor composition. Corporations ISA Person? No. They are composed of them though.

I have been thinking about this ever since the recently surprise court decision the other day that “allows corporations and unions to pour unprecedented amounts of money into elections.”

Lawrence Lessig had some interesting commentary:

The court decision does feel totally wonky to me. Right now, $ has a direct bearing on elections, and allowing multi-nationals (who have the money) to rain it down makes no sense.

Fun aside

My renaissance friend Graham Glass talks about how corporations can be considered a single conscious in his series on “the mind”.

The issue with the vast number of corporations is that they are profit driven entities whose charter is to bring financial reward to shareholders. While you could argue that we as a species are driven by the selfish gene, corporations are driven by profits. Duh. Capitalism.

Google is a company. It is driven by this same goal. Now, there are various paths to a particular goal to make profits. Some companies sell things that kill people (weapons, cigarettes, etc). Others offer medical devices. All companies are not equal. Having spent time at Google, I do feel like the place isn’t just an evil cult. The people that make up the consciousness were very driven strong willed people that cared about the company mission (universal access to information and all that) more than just the $. Sure some folks are focused on that. Also, although the wool could be placed over your eyes, the guys at the top of the chain have their hearts in the right place. While Larry and Sergey are there, decisions will be made that aren’t solely based on profit. They want to create a different kind of legacy and company.

That being said, I think it is quite easy to fall into a trap such as:

If we do something here to block competition, we can make more $ and since we are Good Guys we can do better things with that money!

Google will sometimes do things that could be considered “evil” by some. That is life.

The good news with Google is that their search and ads business deals in a trust economy. It doesn’t take much to switch from Google to Bing. Google knows that. Even though they have some HUGE advantages (technical [data centers, talent], brand, etc) the low barrier to change is huge.

Not all corporations are profit driven

I had the huge pleasure of working for Mozilla, which is a mission based corporation. Wow does that make life different. While you have to sustain yourself, it does mean that you think of the world very differently. You would rather go out in a blaze of glory doing something great for the mission, than just slowly die not doing much. Every choice you make …. you think of the mission.

It was interesting to work there knowing that I actually wouldn’t want Firefox to be a 90% browser. You can fall into the similar trap as above and think:

We are mission based! If we had that domination we would use it for good!

But, not having that power in one hand is even better. Imagine working somewhere thinking “in my wildest dreams, the market would be shared somewhat evenly with the competition.” The Open Web is amazing in that there is NO SINGLE VENDOR. If we are able to keep a decent balance between browsers (and thus the platform as we know it) then we have a balance of powers. Sure, in some ways you can’t move as fast as a dictatorship, but there is a reason we don’t want dictatorships in our government (even if the trains run on time!)

And, this brings me to the Adobe half of the Steve Jobs equation. Flash isn’t dead. HTML5 is slowly going to put a dent into it if we ever get some of the use cases just right (e.g. video), but Adobe has a good penetration and can move at the speed of a dictatorship. The iPhone/iPad combo not shipping Flash will have an interesting dynamic here too, hopefully helping the HTML5 video cause. There is still much more work to be done. Flash and browser plugins have had a long history at forging new paths, and the Web can come in behind them and standardize. May that continue.

I do watch for single-owned platforms such as Flash, Silverlight, or now the Apple platform (even though they do great work on the HTML5 side of the house). I don’t want any of those vendors to have too much power. The thought of a Web that required the use of their technology makes me shudder (we have a piece of that with Flash video). Right now I can turn off those plugins and life moves on. Sure I can’t Hulu or Netflix, but that will change. I would miss some of the Flash sites that my kids use, but they could even be partially ported over to HTML5 these days.

I don’t want to “kill” these other platforms as they offer competition and spur on the industry. I just don’t want any one of them to take over. It may seem like the world would be better if we all just used Macs and iPhones and iPads, but would it? Do you think Steve would be a benevolent dictator?

Erm, no.

And thus I find myself torn. I really want to go out and by that iPad……. but when is it “too late”. Surely I have a few years right? I can enjoy the shiny new toy? :)

Dec 01

Gears has been “dead” for a long time, it’s OK, but a shame

Gears, Google, Tech 3 Comments »

I spent a lot of time advocating Gears. I loved the engineers (folks like Aaron Boodman who is doing great stuff with Chrome Extensions, and Chris Prince who now works on the fantastic Google Voice, and many many more…. many of whom are working on Chrome in some fashion).

Today the press is picking up the fact that Gears is dead, even though Google moved its efforts awhile ago (keeping life support turned on) and Linus talks about the focus on HTML5 and Chrome:

“We’re very focused on moving HTML 5 forward, and that’s where we’re putting all of our energy,” Upson said. “When we started the Gears project, three years ago, maybe three and a half years ago now, we did it because we couldn’t get the browser vendors interested in building offline applications. And so, so we said, okay, we’ll build a plugin that could do it. And lo and behold, once we shipped Gears, suddenly the browser vendors got very interested in adding capabilities to build offline applications.

“And so, I think Gears has accomplished its mission very well, in getting these capabilities into HTML 5,” Upson added. “In fact, the team that designed Gears was also instrumental in designing the HTML 5 versions of those APIs. You can almost think of what’s in HTML 5, with app cache, and database, and those things, as essentially Gears 2, and that’s how we view it.”

Many people are happy to wave good bye to Gears and look to the future of HTML5. I feel that too, but I do have a pang of “what coulda been”. The Gears team was incredibly pragmatic. How can we get Gmail Offline? What about other Google properties? This practical experience delivered Gears and the push for support of real APIs that developers need to deliver compelling experiences through the Web platform.

Although it is true that Google can push the cause through their own browser, their properties still need to deal with other browsers. ChromeFrame is one answer there, the new “Google Plugin”. The browser vendors are kicking into gear nicely now. Mozilla, Google, Apple, Opera, and even IE teams are working hard on new features and HTML5 support. When Gears started we (the Web developers) were in the dark ages of browser development. The IE team had moved on to WPF and Silverlight. The other browsers were fighting the fight against a huge IE6 dominant entry with lots of ActiveX keeping it in style.

Does this mean there isn’t a place for a Gears like solution? Yahoo! has BrowserPlus which has the additional benefit of allowing developers to write services. This was one of the issues with Gears. You got APIs that Google gave you. You had no way to extend the experience. Browser Plus allows that and I hope that Lloyd and team have a good 2010.

There is also JetPack (and Chrome Extensions) that allow you to extend the experience in a different way. If I had my way, Gears and Y!BP and JetPack would all have joined forces. That world would then look like:

  • Gears/Y!BP allow functionality to work cross browser and offer a services framework to allow you to write new components that also work cross browser. This is fairly low level work, with some nice sugar for certain APIs.
  • JetPack would give you access to low level APIs in a nice high level JavaScript API. Since it would run in Gears/Y!BP it would run cross browser too.

My wish for Santa? Have JetPack and Y!BP pickup and work together. Give developers a platform to create new services on the Web and have them work cross browser. We shouldn’t have to wait for browser vendors to implement APIs. We should be allowed to experiment more. Gears started its job with the zipper running higher, but there is always more room to run. If we worked out a way to get more people playing with the platform we could get so much more done. We saw what came out of “how could we do Gmail Offline” what about your application needs?

I will raise a glass to Gears and the new HTML5 overlord, but I will miss the vehicle for cross browser experimentation and what coulda been.

Nov 23

Getting Closure: Don’t just use it, don’t just abuse it

Ajax, Google, JavaScript, Tech with tags: 6 Comments »


“Just what the world needs—another sucky JavaScript library,” he said. When I asked him what made it ‘sucky’, he elaborated. “It’s a JavaScript library written by Java developers who clearly don’t get JavaScript.”

This quote is by Kevin Yank, talking to Dmitry Baranovskiy, author of the fantastic Raphaël graphics abstraction library. He writes up more on the issues they see with Closure. This is the few of one side of the community towards the open source release of Google Closure and its tools.

It was bound to happen. When I started at Google I quickly wanted to learn about how Gmail, Google Maps, and all the revolutionary front ends that helped make Ajax happen. Closure was the heart of it, and I quickly wanted to see a way to get the knowledge out there. This was years ago now, but the same reasons permeate through. Even at the time there were a ton of great JavaScript libraries. It wasn’t that I wanted Google to come down the mountain like Moses and bless the world “thou shalt use Closure!” However, some smart people had worked for some time refining their use of the browser runtime and Closure was the art and science of that ongoing experiment. Having the world able to at least see the experiment would be a good thing. Other libraries could learn from it.

No one from Google has said that you should, or must use Closure!

I realize that we live in a world of heros or zeroes. There isn’t room for much in between. You are either going to be a X killer, or you are killed by X. There is no time to tell the longer arching tale. Closure came to us late in the game, where folks are often perceived to be in their camps. I love JavaScript because it allows a diverse group of libraries to do what they do best. Developers and designers can find what suits both their personalities and their particular project.

If someone asks me (and they often do) “Which Ajax library should I use?” there isn’t a simple answer. It is nuanced. It is complicated. It is frustrating! How many of you have even changed libraries in a project? It is embarrassing to go back in time and see what happened with Bespin. At various times we had MooTools, Prototype, Dojo, and SproutCore. Is that productive? Obviously no.

You build many things on the Web. A web site isn’t a web application, and then blend together so you often can’t tell when you go from one to the other (and it doesn’t of course matter at all). jQuery has made a living starting out as a fantastic DSL for sprinkling behaviour onto web sites and going from there. SproutCore and Cappuccino are the other extreme, and Dojo was the kitchen sink of JS development a long time ago. Speaking of Dojo, I really wish that Dojo and Closure had collided a long time ago. I think that it would have benefitted both sides, even though I know that it would have added some overhead for both too. When you are on an internal framework it is built for your needs. If you take a look at the Closure components they feel very Googley out of the box. At the end of the day though, Dojo and Closure are so similar in many ways, that having them joint at the hip a few years back would have been really exciting. C’est la vie.

One tricky thing about Closure is that you can’t look at all of the widgets and packages equally (same for most libraries to be fair). Some are battled hardened to the hilt as they are on important production systems acting as core functionality. The keyboard handling and localization support is top draw. Others may be cool but placed in via an interesting 20% project that isn’t as mission critical and hence battle hardened. Not all code is equal. In fact, I find the line by line code criticism tiring. It is so easy to take someones code and find fault with it (at least perceived fault). I am sure there is bad code in Closure. That is true for all code. It is much harder to be a creator though. Don’t get me wrong, it is good to point out potential issues, but there is a big difference between:

“I noticed that code X does Y. I think there is a bug there that would affect ….”


“Code X SUCKS. Mwhahahahahah. SUCKS!”

My new years resolution for 2010: “Say *sucks* less”.

The criticism that made me laugh hardest was the assertion that the Closure engineers were Java folks who wanted JS to be Java. They are far from it. They are old school JS engineers who have done amazing things on the Web and have just learned a few things along the way as they build huge scale JS systems.

Google is of course a big place with engineers with opinions :) When you have the creators of various languages and platforms under one roof that is always going to be the case (From Python to C++ to Java to Go, and then Closure, GWT, etc on the JS side… even jQuery ;). Many of the frontend engineers aren’t fans of Closure (as in: doesn’t fit them) but they do understand where some of the strengths are. Some of the engineers have even weighed in:

NOTE: The following quotes were taken from a Facebook comment stream. There is context missing (for example, Joel talks below about how he didn’t use the term ‘natives’ for example

Joel Webber, GWT guru: “I’m unfortunately not too surprised to see self-appointed “Javascript natives” pissing all over Closure, because it tells them something they don’t want to hear — namely, that you can’t get enough optimization leverage on large applications without some constraints on your code’s structure. The kind of stuff that you see in many Javascript libraries (e.g. lots of dynamic tests to figure out what to do in a function) pretty much guarantees that you’ll have an unoptimizeable mess.”

Gavin Doughtie, Dojo and Google Photos: “As one of the Javascript natives, I must say after three years of using Closure that it gives you a nice split between development-time dynamism and deployment-time optimization. I have found few Javscript idioms unavailable to me when coding, yet still benefit from static checking and optimizations once I’m ready to ship.”

I am more of a JavaScript native than anything else. I am not going to be rushing to use Closure on a project any time soon. It doesn’t fit many of the projects I work on to be honest, and it doesn’t fit me as well as some of the other libraries.

That being said, I am thankful to Google for putting this code in the commons (and the fantastic tools around it!) so we can all check it out (and some of us use it). I hope that the hard part of open sourcing a project kicks in and we see a community form around it, including taking in contributions. I still also harbor the hope that Dojo and Closure joined forces, but that is hard to do (a lot of people using both code bases!)

When it comes to getting closure, I hope that you don’t jump to the extreme and ignore and abuse it, and I also hope that you also don’t think that you SHOULD use it without checking it out and understanding the tradeoffs.

For example, this is crazy:

“I hate to admit but I “might” have switched from jQuery to Closure strictly because of the Google brand.”

Roundup on Closure

Oct 12

Chrome Win Size; Playing with Chrome extension mechanism

Google with tags: , No Comments »

I have been watching the work of Aaron and the Chrome Extensions team for awhile. I love that with that effort and Jetpack we are going to see extension creation made simpler and more approachable for Web developers.

I realized that I hadn’t written a Chrome extension, so I wanted to try it on for size. I thus created an incredibly simple extension that tells you the size of the window on the fly: Chrome Win Size.


In an ideal world this extension would be as easy as:

  • Create a bit of HTML for the tooltip
  • Attach an onresize handler to the window that changes the HTML

Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite that easy…. but it was pretty close. The only difference involves the fact that you can’t easily get the window object to resize.

Here is the entire extension to show how simple it is:

Web page for the tool strip

For now, I wanted to put the windows size information in the toolstrip. This isn’t ideal, especially if you don’t have other extensions that turn on the toolstrip. It could be nicer to either: have a subtle grey width/height in the background of the URL bar itself; show the info only when a certain keystroke is pressed. That is all for version 0.2 :)

As you will see below, the extension is just a Web page, and the toolstrip is just a div. You could use class="toolstrip-button" but for now a click doesn’t do anything, so I didn’t use that. Instead I have a title attribute that uses plain English to explain the info.

Once you have the HTML itself, you also have some JavaScript to do the work. The init kicks things off the first time, but the interesting code is the chrome.extension.onConnect.addListener piece that sets up the extension so that a content script can talk to it via postMessage.

// Query the current window (anyone will do) and set the window size in the toolstrip
function showDimensions() {
    chrome.windows.getCurrent(function(w) {
        var el = document.getElementById("windowsize");
    	el.innerHTML = w.width + " x " + w.height;
    	el.setAttribute("title", "width: " + w.width + "px, height: " + w.height + "px");
// Listen to the content script and when told there is a change, query again
chrome.extension.onConnect.addListener(function(port, name) {    
  console.assert(name == "resize");
  port.onMessage.addListener(function() {
<body onload="showDimensions()">
  <div id="windowsize"></div>

Content Script

Why do we need a content script? Ideally, we would be able to grab a window in the extension and add a resize listener to it and be done. That isn’t the case right now though. In the code above, the window object that we get in w from chrome.windows.getCurrent(function(w) {... isn’t a DOM Window, but just something with a few properties (width, height, etc).

To get an actual DOM window, we need to inject a content script and have that talk to the extension. The code is as simple as below… which does the postMessage() back to the listener that we setup in the extension:

// When the window resizes send a quick message to the extension
window.addEventListener("resize", function() {
	chrome.extension.connect({name: "resize"}).postMessage();
}, false);


Now we need to put it all together and that is where the manifest comes in. It is here that we tell Chrome where the files are for the toolstrip and content script, and what permissions they have (e.g. give it the tabs permission), as well as metadata:

  "name": "Window Size", 
  "version": "0.1",
  "description": "Displays the size of the main window",
/*  "icons": { "128": "gmail-128x128.png" }, */
  "permissions": [
  "toolstrips": [
  "content_scripts": [
      "matches": ["http://*/*", "https://*/*"],
      "js": ["contentscript.js"]


Even with the content script hack, it is pretty easy to do this kind of thing. It would be nice to do more with the window object as the hack has limitations beyond the extra code. For one, if you are on a page such as chrome://extensions/ nothing kicks in (due to the matching). Rather than matching on pages for content scripts to embed, it would be much better to declare that you care about windows themselves.

The toolstrips themselves are a little bulky and ugly, at least on Chrome for Mac (which is very much in beta) and as mentioned earlier…. unless you are using a bunch of extensions, it feels very unChrome-like to use that space.

FYI: To package an extension on Mac/Linux use this handy script as the built-in functionality isn’t there yet.

All in all a decent experience already. Really nice to just work on an HTML document to kick out the functionality. The idealist in me would love to see Jetpack and Chrome Extensions coming together so Web devs had One Way to extend the platform…… The Web is in a fortunate position to have folks like Aaron Boodman, Aza Raskin, Atul Varma and many others on the case of Web extensions.

Sep 14

Data Liberation is great, but how about owning it?

Google, Tech with tags: 6 Comments »

It was exciting to see Fitz launch dataliberation.org today. You probably saw it:

Users own the data they store in any of Google’s products. Our team’s goal is to give users greater control by making it easier for them to move data in and out.

It is a pretty big deal what Fitz and his “Data Liberation Front” has done. Not only do you have the politics of making it happen, but think of the logistics involved in getting teams at Google to prioritize import/export in front of other features. It takes a lot of time. Good on you for fighting the fight guys.

Ragavan has posted some thoughts linking to the Guardian article and Glyn Moody.

I agree that this is a huge step, but very much the first step:

  • Being able to import/export data is a good start
  • Being able to say “delete all notion of my being here” is important
  • Having fine grained control of access is great
  • Being the center of the gravity of your own data, where you grant access and rights to it, would be awesome.

It is great to see a light shining on the issue. Hopefully this is the start of a conversation. One where we can discuss who owns our data, and where we can clearly recognize the rights that we have. I want to be able to understand your business model and see the value that you give me. Then, I can decide what access to my data I want to give. Ragavan has some good words here:

Personally, I think Data liberation (or data portability as it has been called formerly) applies as much to your data as it does to data about you. One of the big concerns about Google (and a number of other cloud computing players) is the amount of data they have compiled about you – online profiling, if you will. What sites you visit, what you buy, your likes and dislikes, your email – everything is mined, processed and used to improve your web experience (and to serve you ads).

So, while you may be able to liberate your data and move it to a different service, it is unclear what it means with regards to your online profile. I guess you could export your web history, but is that all Google knows about me? In fact, what does Google know about me? A related question that would be good to get clarification on is whether there is an option to permanently delete your data once you’ve exported it.

Another factor to consider is how you define what “your data” is. For example, if you look at it as just exporting your photos out of Picasa and importing them to flickr, I’d posit that’s a rather simplistic view. A large part of what makes your data useful and valuable is all the relationships associated with it. I share my photos with my friends and family, I license some under Creative Commons, I group them, I tag them – all of these make my data very context rich. How do you liberate this context? And if you do, what does it mean to import them elsewhere?

These are hard questions and I’m sure there are several more to ask. But these are the very questions that need to be answered as we move towards the people-centric web (or the you-centric web as some of us like to call it).