Results

Fronteers12 – Q&A results, quick reviews and impressions from the stage

Last week the fifth annual Fronteers conference lured a few hundred developers, designers and managers to Amsterdam, The Netherlands to hear about what’s hot and new in web development. This year I did not speak, but played the MC and interviewer instead.

I have a very soft spot for Fronteers as a conference. I spoke at every one of them and I am always amazed by how much the audience knows. You speak to a group of experts and as such speakers are expected and do deliver sensible, useful talks with lots of technical detail.

Having an audience in the know also makes for a buzzing back channel at a conference and in the past this one was ruthless – shooting down speakers who held back or didn’t know 100% what they were talking about in flames.

In order to turn this into a more productive environment I proposed to the organisers last year that I’d volunteer to introduce the speakers and instead of a traditional Q&A do a sit-down interview with them directly after the talk. I’ve done this before at Highland Fling and found it to be a much more efficient way to handle questions.

And that’s what we did. As Fronteers has a working wireless it was simple to convey to the audience the procedure:

  • I introduce the speaker
  • The speaker gives his presentation during which the audience can tweet questions they have using the #fqa hashtag (Fronteers Q&A)
  • I sit down with the speaker on the side of the stage and conduct an interview using the questions during which the next speaker can set up

All in all this is an incredible effective way of running the conference as you use the time normally wasted in between speakers and you get much more questions answered. There is no waiting for roaming microphones and there is no “can you repeat, I can’t understand you”. Having a 120 character limit also means that people think of their questions much more.

Here are all the talks with a quick note by me and links to the collected tweets. I will try to contact all the speakers to grab them and answer them on their own blogs which I will link from here should that happen:

Fronteers Day 1

Mark Boulton, Adapting to Responsive Design

I’ve just seen Mark talk at Smashingconf and at Reasons to be Creative and still I am not bored of him. Good insights and a very “story telling” approach to speaking.

Addy Osmani, The New And Improved Developer Toolbelt

Addy works tirelessly to collect great information and build and connect tools to make our lives easier. This talk covered the need for tooling and build processes and ended introducing Yeoman. All in all this was a good talk, but to my taste it had far too much content. At times Addy read out his slides with a sentence per bullet to the audience and I found myself basically wanting the deck as I was overwhelmed with the offerings.

Peter-Paul Koch, A Pixel is not a Pixel

PPK did a great job explaining why viewports and pixel densities are not an easy matter and showed a lot of examples how hard it is to build a consistent experience across various browsers just on one device. A good advertisement for PPK’s research into the matter and why we need it.

Alex Graul, Using JS to build bigger, better datavis to enlighten and elate

Alex gave me the first slight heart attack of the event as he had a mix-up with his slides, spoke far too fast and hard to understand if you are not used to speaking to Britishers, and finished after 15 minutes or so. This is where I came in to cover 35 minutes of Q&A until the catering staff was ready for the feeding of the hordes. It was incredible to see though how Alex caught himself and calmed down a lot when in an interview situation rather than a “where are my slides, what is this” one. I think all in all I got much more out of Alex than he’d have covered in his talk this way and as the topic was incredibly interesting it was easy to chat for a bit.

Mathias Bynens, Ten things I didn’t know about HTML

Mathias is dangerous. He is very intelligent, charming and does a lot of research into the ins and outs of markup and browser rendering. Based on that he shows us just how much code is not needed to write for a browser to show a page. That this code is necessary for people to understand what you do is something Mathias believes a lot himself, I just hope that when he says it people still listen rather than just going for the quick “oh, good, I need no closing tag”. Talent like Mathias makes me confident about the future of the web, when I will be sitting on my porch, chasing ducks with my cane and grumbling about darn kids eating my cherries.

Stephen Hay, Style guides are the new Photoshop

Stephen, the only other speaker apart from me who spoke at every Fronteers, is an institution and rightfully so. In this talk, which he also gave at Smashingconf he showed how to automatically generate style guides from mockups, thus making our workflow much shorter. A designer who likes the CLI and uses VIM. What more do you want?

Antoine Hegeman, Bor Verkroost, Bram Duvigneau & Chris Heilmann, Accessibility panel

OK, this was the moment in the conference where I was – as one says – shitting bricks. I know my a11y and I have seen live demos of a11y technology fail spectacularly on stage over and over again. It shows just how professional and pragmatic the panelists were that nothing went wrong at all, and I’d say that this was one of the most informative a11y sessions at a conference I’ve ever seen.

Lea Verou, More CSS secrets: Another 10 things you may not know about CSS

Lea once again dazzled with amazing CSS tricks, once shown before at Smashingconf and coded live on stage. Great stuff, but she was quite over time sadly enough. That said, play with what she showed here, lots to learn.

Fronteers Day 2

Marcin Wichary, The biggest devils in the smallest details

Marcin is the master of Google doodles, builds his own slides using two browsers talking to each other via Node, doesn’t get phased too much when he drops his laptop on stage and in general is a total tinkerer. Great speaker. Lovely, lovely talk.

David DeSandro, Keep it Simple, Smartypants

David changed his talk in the last minute after realising how much in the know the audience is and instead of his planned session talked about trying to make money with “open source” JavaScript solutions and how it can be done. This was the most animated interview I did as there seems to be a massive misunderstanding what open source means. I will blog more about this soon.

Jeroen Wijering, The State of HTML5 Video

Jeroen is the man behind JW player, the HTML5/Flash video player in use in YouTube and seen a lot on the web. He covered the basics of HTML5 video and kept his talk very short which allowed me to dig a bit deeper into the newer unknowns in open media like streaming and DRM during the interview.

Anne van Kesteren, Building the web platform

Anne van Kesteren is scarily smart when it comes to the web, browsers and standards and in this talk he shared some of his thoughts and ideas. Sadly enough, I found the talk very confusing and lacking an overall story arc or goal. It all might become more obvious when I watch the video again, but I for one was more confused than inspired.

Phil Hawksworth, I can smell your CMS

Phil seems to be a clone of Jake Archibald who went to design school. Very funny, very quick, with beautiful slides and examples and tales from the trenches he knows how to engage and to give out good info to boot. To me one of the best talks I’ve seen lately.

Peter Nederlof, Beyond simple transitions, with a pinch of
JavaScript

Peter is a silent star. He does incredible work and participated with solutions in some of the larger breakthroughs in library code in the past without tooting his horn much. The same happened here. Peter had some great examples and code ideas but lacked the oomph needed to get people excited about it. All in all this would have been a kick-ass 15 minute lightning talk but felt stretched as it was. Nevertheless, use what he talked about, there is a lot of good in there.

Rebecca Murphey, JS Minty Fresh: Identifying and Eliminating Smells in Your Code Base

Rebecca is a trainer by heart and gave a very nice overview how to refactor and clean up stale JavaScript code that is based on laziness or “quick, get this out of the door” thinking. Good advice, but to me too much focused on jQuery. I’d like to see this at the jQuery conf as it reminded me of my talk there last year, with the main difference that Rebecca knows it inside out.

Alex Russell, What the legacy web is keeping from us

Alex is very smart indeed and delivered a talk that surprised me and made me happy. Instead of damning outdated technologies and pushing kicking and screaming into a more app-centric web based on current browser technology, Alex started with some thought experiments and built up to a great conclusion that it is up to us to free ourselves from the shackles of outdated tech. Splendid talk, go see it.

Summary

All in all Fronteers delivered again. And this was a massive surprise to me as I didn’t prepare anything and neither coached the speakers in time, nor knew some of the speakers. I also convinced the organisers in the last minute to go for the “interview Q&A” approach and scrounged chairs on the spot to make it happen. As it stands, I am damn proud having pulled it off and hope more conferences will follow the principle. For anyone who is out to do the MCing and interviewing: rest up, it is a truckload of work and quite exhausting as you need to be first there, last out and 100% concentrated on the content. Doing ad-hoc interviews with live questions coming in is not a simple feat, but when you do it, it is very much worth your while. I had a blast and I hope people got a lot out of Fronteers 2012.


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Developer survey results: libraries and cross-browser on mobile?

At Mozilla, we are dedicated to keep the web open and independent of a single company or technology. This means that users should have a choice of browsers and technology to use to go online and should not be blocked out because they can’t afford a certain device or are forbidden to change their browser.

In the world of mobile web development there is currently a massive debate going on about the need for support of various browsers seeing that the most successful phone systems both use the same browser engine. This is good, and we need this debate. It is not good though when developers block out users because they concentrate on targetting a browser. Sometimes this is not by choice of the developer – they are simply using tools that do that blocking for them and the usefulness of the tool outweighs the qualms developers have about that.

We are currently talking to library and tool developers and help them support more than one browser engine to prevent this. As a start of that process we wanted to get a glimpse of what people are using right now so we make sure we have the most impact when we help. This is why we conducted an online survey asking developers about their tools for mobile development.

590 developers took the survey and we are thankful for them spending their time giving us a lot to ponder and think about.

We are very aware that this is *not* a scientifically clean research and should be taken with a grain of salt (we haven’t asked how many times people used the tools or how much of their work is building mobile apps) but it gives us a good idea of what is going on.

So without further ado, here are the numbers as charts with a quick commentary:

Platforms

A lot of developers showed their love for the web in this survey, but then again it was a survey initiated by Mozilla. Most likely an Apple-lead survey would have different results. iOS and Android are the follow-up and Windows Phone and Blackberry are less of a concern for the developers who filled the survey. This, of course, could differ greatly were we do to this survey targetted to different markets. Interesting that in the case of Android the amount of “must have” is higher than “focus” – the only platform showing this.

What platforms are you targeting with your apps – Web
focus 370 63%
must have 153 26%
supported 33 6%
sometimes 23 4%
not at all 11 2%
What platforms are you targeting with your apps – iOS
focus 261 44%
must have 207 35%
supported 53 9%
sometimes 28 5%
not at all 41 7%
What platforms are you targeting with your apps – Android
focus 182 31%
must have 221 37%
supported 102 17%
sometimes 47 8%
not at all 38 6%
What platforms are you targeting with your apps – Windows phone
focus 10 2%
must have 46 8%
supported 131 22%
sometimes 173 29%
not at all 230 39%
What platforms are you targeting with your apps – Blackberry
focus 8 1%
must have 15 3%
supported 100 17%
sometimes 164 28%
not at all 303 51%

People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%.

Libraries

In the world of libraries jQuery and jQuery mobile very much took the lead with more than 200 more uses than the next follower Zepto.js. A lot of feedback was that developers don’t like libraries and use their own hand-rolled solutions on mobile instead. While it is good to see that libraries that work cross-browser are the most used ones (jQuery just announced that they happily support Firefox mobile), the high number of Sencha users is worrying and we’ll see how we can help make their cross-browser support better. Sencha was also mentioned a lot in the “why webkit only” question which shows that it is an important tool for developers.

What libraries do you use to build mobile web apps/sites?
jQuery 437 74%
jQuery mobile 301 51%
Zepto.js 116 20%
JO 5 1%
XUI.js 23 4%
Sproutcore 9 2%
Sencha touch 88 15%
JQTouch 61 10%
Mootools mobile 16 3%
M project 1 0%
Nimblekit 2 0%
Lime.js 10 2%
Wink 2 0%
Uxebu Bikeshed 1 0%
Other 152 26%

People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%.

All in all we collected 66 libraries (in order of popularity): jQuery, jQuery mobile, Zepto.js, Sencha Touch, JQTouch, XUI.js, Backbone, Mootools mobile, Lime.js, Sproutcore, Angular JS, Underscore, Bootstrap , Enyo, Modernizr, Dojo, handlebars, JO, Closure, Dojo Toolkit, GWT, Hammer.js, iScroll, require.js, YUI, Chibi, Ember.js, Kendo, Kinetic, Lungo.js, Nimblekit, Prototype, Wink, Adobe Air, Atto, Box2D, ChesterGL, Cobra, Crafty, Cujo, d3.js, Dart , Dojo Mobile, Dojo Mini, enhance.js, Eyebrow.js, fitml, gl-matrix, H5BP, JQMobi, Javelin, Jukebox, Knockout, MProject, Mootools, Openlayers, Path , Playcanvas, pointer.js, Raphael, Sugar.js, TerrificJS, Thorax, Titanium Mobile, Uxebu bikeshed, Wakanda

Conversion frameworks

There is no doubt that Phonegap / Cordova rules this segment of the market followed by Appcelerator. Quite a lot of feedback was also people claiming that native apps should be coded natively. Being a web evangelist, I disagree as you can not convert from native to web but the other way around, but it is interesting to see that developers felt the need to have their say here.

Which frameworks do you use to convert apps to native apps?
PhoneGap 325 90%
Appcellerator 50 14%
MoSync 2 1%
Other 38 10%

People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%.

All in all we collected 13 conversion tools (in order of popularity): Phonegap, Adobe Air, Apache Cordova, Cocoon.js, Brightcove App Cloud, Mosync, Sencha Native SDK, appMobi, Flex Mobile, Mobileweb, Monotouch and backbone.

Visual editors

Not many developers seem to use visual editors, which is probably because most of them are still in a “beta” or “alpha” stage. It would be interesting to do the same survey with Flash developers who are moving towards HTML5 and see if the numbers are higher. As it stands, Adobe Edge and Sencha Animator are the clear winners, and some of the entries were interesting including one “you got to be kidding me” :).

Do you use any visual tools/converters to build apps? If so, which?
Adobe Edge 19 36%
Sencha Animator 10 19%
Other 25 47%

People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%.

All in all we collected 17 editors (in order of popularity): Adobe Edge, Sencha Animator, Adobe Dreamweaver, Adobe Flash, Adobe Photoshop, Codiqua, Construct 2, Hype, Playcanvas , Radi, Rhodes, Telrik, Tiggzi, Tiler, Wakanda, Web Developer Add-on, WebMatrix

Webkit only?

71% of developers filling out the survey said they test for more than Webkit browsers and in the general feedback section of the survey we had a lot of information as to how people are testing and what would make things much easier for them. This makes us happy of course.

Do you test on non-Webkit browsers?
Yes 421 71%
No 169 29%

Reasons to test for webkit only

The main reason here is a lack of time to test on other platforms which is understandable – we can assume that a lot of projects from a planning perspective have 99% iOS/Android written all over them. The “lack of incentive” number is high, too, which is understandable – if you can’t show the numbers, you don’t get the time to support. The high number of “not supported on hardware” is of course another very understandable reason and we wished there would be a way to change this.

Fixed environment defined by client needs 46 24%
Lack of time to support more browser platforms 103 55%
Lack of incentive – I don’t know what the benefit of supporting more is 79 42%
Lack of documentation how to install and debug on non-webkit browsers 43 23%
Bugginess of other browsers on test platforms 31 16%
Lack of support for other browsers on target hardware 68 36%
Other 20 11%

People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%.

Webkit only technology

The question “What technologies/features do you use on Webkit browsers that are crucial for you and not available on others?” was answered by 135 developers and only partly answered what we needed to know. A lot of it wasn’t features of Webkit but general speed and availability reasons that are reliant on the operating system and the hardware. A lot of the answers also simply stated that these browsers come with the hardware which means end users have them and developers don’t have an overhead of installing other browsers or tools. However, quite a few developers praised the predictability of a “one browser platform web” and not having to worry about vendor prefixes and differences in html5 support.

What can mobile Firefox do better?

The question “If yes, what could Firefox mobile provide to make your life easier?” got around 230 answers and is a great resource for us to improve the browser. The message that came across loud and clear was the need for remote debugging for Firefox Android which was just announced here on the hacks blog. It is obvious that developers do not want to have a long gap between writing code and seeing the results on their phones – very understandable indeed. Quite in demand was also a native simulator for the Desktop to avoid the need of having a phone at all. Another thing that stood out was support for older and more hardware.

Anything else?

The “Anything else you want to get heard?” question got 73 answers with a lot of great feedback, especially praise for what is happening right now in the world of Mozilla and some very detailed concerns of developers. We now have a great time going through these answers and will see how we can accelerate a few of the demands in our next browser builds.

Check the results

We’ve uploaded the anonymised answers as a spreadsheet to Google Docs, so feel free to read and dig at your own leisure: Mozilla libraries survey.

A huge Thank You

Last but not least, we want to say Thank you! to everyone who participated. We now have a lot of insightful information and can focus our outreach to frameworks, tools and libraries that will have the most impact when it comes to supporting a cross-browser web. We were also very positively surprised that the trolling and fanboi-ing was kept to a bare minimum – this showed us that the topic really is important for all developers out there.

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HTML5 Web applications and libraries survey – first results

At Mozilla, we are dedicated to keep the web open and independent of a single company or technology. This means that users should have a choice of browsers and technology to use to go online and should not be blocked out because they can’t afford a certain device or are forbidden to change their browser.

In the world of mobile web development there is currently a massive debate going on about the need for support of various browsers seeing that the most successful phone systems both use the same browser engine. This is good, and we need this debate. It is not good though when developers block out users because they concentrate on targetting a browser. Sometimes this is not by choice of the developer – they are simply using tools that do that blocking for them and the usefulness of the tool outweighs the qualms developers have about that.

We are now planning to talk to library and tool developers and help them support more than one browser engine to prevent this. As a start of that process we wanted to get a glimpse of what people are using right now so we make sure we have the most impact when we help. This is why we started a quick online survey asking developers about their tools for mobile development.

We are happy to report that to date we have 480 answers and it is time to take a first stab at looking at the data.

We are very aware that this is *not* a scientifically clean research and should be taken with a grain of salt (we haven’t asked how many times people used the tools or how much of their work is building mobile apps) but it gives us a good first glimpse at what makes most sense for us to do.

So without further ado, here are the raw numbers as charts:

Platforms

Not many surprises there, iOS and Android are in the lead, quite a lot of people see the web as a must-have (but this is a survey called out by Mozilla…) and Blackberry and Windows Mobile are not that hight on people’s radar.

What platforms are you targeting with your apps – iOS
focus 208 43%
must have 168 35%
supported 43 9%
sometimes 24 5%
not at all 36 8%
What platforms are you targeting with your apps – Android
focus 147 31%
must have 183 38%
supported 85 18%
sometimes 33 7%
not at all 31 6%
What platforms are you targeting with your apps – Blackberry
focus 5 1%
must have 11 2%
supported 83 17%
sometimes 136 28%
not at all 244 51%
What platforms are you targeting with your apps – Web
focus 306 64%
must have 121 25%
supported 26 5%
sometimes 18 4%
not at all 8 2%
What platforms are you targeting with your apps – Windows phone
focus 8 2%
must have 36 8%
supported 112 23%
sometimes 137 29%
not at all 186 39%

Libraries

jQuery rules supreme but Sencha touch and Zepto also have their place. Interestingly enough a lot of answers discarded libraries completely and considered them an overhead that will cause damage in the future.

What libraries do you use to build mobile web apps/sites?
jQuery 349 73%
jQuery mobile 248 52%
Zepto.js 90 19%
JO 5 1%
XUI.js 18 4%
Sproutcore 7 1%
Sencha touch 72 15%
JQTouch 50 10%
Mootools mobile 11 2%
M project 1 0%
Nimblekit 2 0%
Lime.js 9 2%
Wink 1 0%
Uxebu Bikeshed 1 0%
Other 126 26%
People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%.

Conversion frameworks

You do love your PhoneGap / Cordova, it seems. There is not too much competition in this market and a lot of feedback was questioning the sense of converting apps as “building them natively makes more sense”.

Which frameworks do you use to convert apps to native apps?
PhoneGap 257 90%
Appcellerator 45 16%
MoSync 2 1%
Other 31 11%
People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%.

Visual editors

The space of visual editors seems to be not to frequented with this audience – would be interesting to see if there is already a mass market for WYSIWYG-like tools in the web app space.

Do you use any visual tools/converters to build apps? If so, which?
Adobe Edge 14 35%
Sencha Animator 9 23%
Other 18 45%
People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%.

Webkit only?

71% of the audience saying they test on other browsers than webkit is making us happy of course, but seeing that a lot of the tools in use are webkit only makes that number questionable. Then again, we didn’t qualify what testing entices in this case.

Do you test on non-Webkit browsers?
Yes 340 71%
No 139 29%

Reasons to test for webkit only

The main reason here is a lack of time to test on other platforms which is understandable – we can assume that a lot of projects from a planning perspective have 99% iOS/Android written all over them. The “lack of incentive” number is high, too, which is understandable – if you can’t show the numbers, you don’t get the time to support.

If no, can you tell us why?
Fixed environment defined by client needs 36 23%
Lack of time to support more browser platforms 85 54%
Lack of incentive – I don’t know what the benefit of supporting more is 65 42%
Lack of documentation how to install and debug on non-webkit browsers 39 25%
Bugginess of other browsers on test platforms 24 15%
Lack of support for other browsers on target hardware 55 35%
Other 16 10%
People may select more than one checkbox, so percentages may add up to more than 100%.

More to come

These are just the numbers right now. Soon we’ll be publishing also the free-form comments we got but for now this should get some discussion going and gives us a great start.

And finally – a massive thank you for everybody who participated in this survey!

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