June 10th, 2015
The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed. – William Gibson
The web moves fast. Faster every year, what with evergreen browsers across the board. It’s certainly a far cry from the bad old days, when we went 5 years between Internet Explorer updates. It would be convenient to think that because we live in a world where people’s browsers are regularly updating, that we live in a world where the web is in a reliable state.
Oh yes, a quick check of your web stats may show that IE8 is the new IE6, and even that is on its way out. We’re nearly at a stage where there’s a baseline of CSS 3 available, which for those of us who remember trying to get CSS working at all in Netscape 4 is a huge shift.
But the only constant is change. Yesterday’s cutting edge is todays common baseline. The web moves on with new Browser APIs, new CSS and new HTML elements. HTML 5 becomes HTML 5.1, CSS gets its CSS 4 selectors and ECMAScript reaches version 7.
This stuff doesn’t arrive all at once though.
It arrives in dribs and drabs, with different browser development teams focusing on differing priorities. Chrome and Firefox have Web RTC already, but it’s still under development for IE, who knows when it’ll hit Safari mobile. Want to use it for a project? Go take a look at iswebrtcreadyyet.com and you’ll be hit by the most common conundrum in web development:
How do I make this work where I need it to?
This isn’t new. This has been going on since there were multiple browsers. From the days of trying to make DHTML work with IE and Netscape’s different layer models to the days of having Promises in some versions of Android on mobile, but not in Safari on iOS 7. The future is like the past, only there’s more of it.
Which brings me to the point. The web is a continually moving target. It probably changed in the time it took me to write this. If you work with web stuff you need to embrace this fact. It will be the only constant in your career. When I’m old and grey and building hypermedia virtual experiences in HTML 10, it’ll be no different, except for maybe some silver space-age jumpsuit and a dodgy prostate.
On the web progressive enhancement is and will always be, the methodology of choice. It makes your site robust to the shifting sands of the web front end. You don’t control your audience’s choice of browser, operating system, connection speed, device, ability to interact with technology or understanding thereof. You don’t control the flow of new features to those browsers, the priorities of their developers and organisations. You don’t get to decide if a feature will be implemented well or buggily or partially.
All you can do is pick a good baseline, and enhance for those who have the shiny.
You do get to work on the most globally available, unpredictable, diversely interacted with communication platform in the world. Enjoy that.