Thursday, December 29, 2011

Social Media Club Buffalo: #TacoVinoII

Photo of wine glass and gift card contest poster.

Last night the local Social Media Club chapter here in Buffalo repeated last year's mid-holiday party success by putting on TacoVinoII. Similar to last year, the club teamed up with a local wine bar, Just Vino, and a local food truck, Lloyd Taco Truck.

Photo of the line outside the taco truck.

Lloyd Taco Truck made a batch of its popular duck tacos for the crowd and Just Vino ran raffles all night for $25 gift cards to the bar. Attendees not only got to enjoy wine and duck tacos (along with other Lloyd staples), but they had the pleasure of pairing the two while chatting in real life with the very people they might only chat with online.

Duck tacos from @whereslloyd after Mencia from Just Vino. Yum. #tacovinoII

An event which started off with only 50 free tickets quickly filled up, and the ticket count got bumped up twice more to 150 people. Throughout the night it was pretty clear they all came through. The cold night certainly didn't stop anyone from waiting in line for tacos, either.

I went home with a pork burrito. #tacovinoII sent a photographer to capture the evening and posted a gallery of 60 photos this morning for you to look through. My favorite photo in the bunch, of course, is the only one I am in — featuring my finger puns pew-pewing the Buffalo chapter president (#26 in the set).

Photo of SMC Buffalo chapter president and another board member.

If you are afraid you missed out on all the fun, you can verify that you did just by checking out the #TacoVinoII hashtag on Twitter.

Credit for this year's event goes to Erin Collins for organizing it and pulling it together, Nicole Schuman, Rachel Gottlieb and Jeremy Juhasz for manning the registration table and generally pimping the club, Kate Wolcott for the updated logo and signage, Ashlei Jachimowicz for on-site tweeting responsibilities, and Anthony Rizzo, who worked the crowd to sell raffle tickets.

Somewhat related —no Foursquare venue was created for TacoVino II, primarily because both Just Vino and Lloyd Taco Truck have their own venues on Foursquare. However, when you have a crowd of social media professionals and hobbyists, it's just a matter of time before one of them creates the venue for you. In this case the "matter of time" was about half an hour.

Apparently even if you don't create an official #TacoVinoII 4sq venue, the crowd will do it for you. (@ TacoVino II)

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Don't Expect Microsoft's Auto-Update to Kill IE6

Last week Microsoft announced that it is planning to start upgrading users to the latest version of Internet Explorer that their computers can run (IE to Start Automatic Upgrades across Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7). Web developers for the most part were overjoyed with the notion that IE6, the bane of their existence, might finally be brushed aside.

But that's not what's going to happen.


IE6 users in a corporate environment generally don't have a say in the browser they use. Typically if they have not been upgraded to a more recent version of Internet Explorer, it's for a reason. This reason can include anything from a customized version of the browser (yes, those exist) to an intranet/extranet application that was built to lean on the features of IE6 itself. When faced with the option of re-writing an entire application or just holding off on an upgrade, imagine which one is likely to win out (especially when weighed between the effort of the full rebuild or the effort of doing nothing). Back in March, ReadWriteWeb ran a poll with results showing that 29% of corporate users are still on IE6 with "no end in sight."

Microsoft makes Internet Explorer 8 and Internet Explorer 9 Automatic Update Blocker toolkits (for IE8 and for IE9) which allow enterprise environments to skip automatic installation recent upgrades. Since IE6 and IE7 aren't given their own opt-out toolkits and the process is still in the planning stages, it's hard to say how those two older versions will be addressed. It is likely, however, that corporate IT departments will err on the side of caution. It's already common practice for enterprises to decline to install updates and service packs because it may affect existing systems. These systems aren't necessarily built in-house, but are from vendors who themselves have not made any efforts to modify them in the years since IE7 came out (or have simply gone out of business). When an organization will not install Windows XP Service Pack 2 (late 2004), it is unlikely it is going to allow a browser upgrade.


There are other cases besides corporate environments where you may want to opt out — some assistive technology must be upgraded if the browser is upgraded. For example, upgrading to IE9 requires an upgrade to JAWS, Window-Eyes, Dragon Naturally Speaking and possibly other applications (Remarks on Internet Explorer 9 Accessibility and Compatibility with Assistive Technology). While this doesn't address IE6 specifically, each upgrade of IE has typically required other software updates for anything that relies on IE. These collateral effects sometimes make it cost prohibitive for an organization to upgrade even a free browser.

Microsoft's plan will affect users on Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. Windows Vista and Windows 7 users aren't running IE6, so they're not going to contribute to any more IE6 market share drop. Some non-corporate users of Internet Explorer 6 are on genuinely old computers and aren't regularly updating their systems as it is. You may not see much of a drop there, if any. Couple this with the fact that Microsoft is not releasing recent versions of Internet Explorer for Windows XP, and those users will continue to languish on a permanently old browser, even if not IE6.


Microsoft's plan is also unlikely to address the Asian market, where China still sees IE6 running at a 28% installation base (versus 1.8% for Australia and 1.4% for Brazil, where Microsoft is rolling this plan out first). So many of those computers are running unlicensed copies of Windows XP, or are just older computers, that it is unlikely anyone will opt in for the automatic upgrades. While this may not affect most Western companies who don't do business in Asia, it is certainly inflating the numbers for IE6's installation base, and making international dreams for some companies seem a bit more daunting.


I feel like all I do is kill everyone's buzz whenever the coming demise of IE6 is promised. However, I've been killing that buzz for a decade now, so the odds are in my favor.

Microsoft's plan is a good one, and is no more than jumping on the bandwagon pulled by nearly all the other current browser makers. However, because Microsoft has a special place in the enterprise world and with its operating system dominance, I don't see this plan doing much to hasten the demise of IE6.


Not really related, but this handy diagram shows where IE6 fits into the current world of the web:

Monday, December 12, 2011

Test in Lynx and Print, It's Your Job

Screen shot of in Lynx.

I have admittedly not taken the time to attend An Event Apart any of the times it's been held, but I do tend to follow the #aea hashtag on Twitter so I can glean at least a little wisdom from the discomfort of my own desk as I wade through more mundane tasks.

That means I sometimes see tweets like the one below which, taken out of context, get my blood boiling:

@adactio showed his site working in different browsers (incl. Lynx!), devices, screen readers and print. Seeing (one web) is believing. #aea

I try hard not to Tweet in anger, but sometimes they slip out:

It seems folks at #aea are impressed that a modern site will still work in Lynx. How is that novel and not a fricking requirement?

Attendees of #aea also impressed that a responsive design has print styles? Also a requirement, not something to brag about.

I had just this morning been taking time to review my own site in Lynx after a minor update, as I do after every update, just to make sure my alt text, page structure, content, navigation, etc. were all working the way they should. Lynx is part of my regular testing suite. It also helps remind me that reliance on JavaScript for things that can be handled on the server or with CSS isn't such a good idea.

I can't imagine a testing process that doesn't include Lynx. Lynx is the truly lowest common denominator on the web. It gives you insight into how a page is structured, how assistive technology will approach it, and even how search engines will perceive it.

In addition to testing in Lynx, I always look at how a page prints. I create a PDF from a handful of browsers for every project, targeting the home page, content pages, and some outliers (odd templates, gallery chaos, JavaScript flim-flam, and so on). I think that should be expected of all web developers, though clearly it is not. This particular issue has frustrated me more than once, as I outline in my posts Print Styles Forgotten by Responsive Web Developers and More Samples of Responsive Web Design ≠ Print.

Add together my beliefs about Lynx support and print styles, and I cannot accept that anyone would consider this to be something more than the most basic standard practice. Do we get excited when our pages validate? When we choose the right element? Do we celebrate when Twitter pushes out one of our tweets? When Google Analytics produces a chart? When my email gets to its destination? No, because these are basics we should expect.

Let's stop setting the bar so low and expect more of ourselves as developers. Until we do that we aren't professionals, we're hobbyists. Ego-driven hobbyists.

By the way, in addition to that screen shot of my site in Lynx (starting this post), here's my site when printed:

Screen shot of PDF file.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Everything Will Be the New IE6

There seems to be no shortage of people making a comparison to Internet Explorer version 6, or IE6, as the simplest way to declare that something is an impediment to progress. Sometimes the criticism is levied with the understanding that at one point IE6 was the bees knees (In praise of Internet Explorer 6), but more and more people forget that and just treat it, and by extension the subject of the comparison, with derision.

Here are some examples with the comparison right in the title, blithely link-baiting the unsuspecting reader:

I'm not challenging the validity of these articles, some of them make some very good points and the comparison is apt. Having listened to non-tech people (the ones who use "HTML5" in conversation the way they used "DHTML") start to make these comparisons without any historic context, I think it's about time we as web developers came up with a new metaphor to flog. I kinda wish it was Netscape Navigator 2.

the Netscape browser 'throbber.' Remember Netscape Navigator 2, which brought us all sorts of innovations such as frames, cookie management, and JavaScript (nee LiveScript)?

People don't use Netscape Navigator 2 as an insult/comparison the same way because that browser didn't last more than 10 years in the wild (despite my best efforts), not to mention far too many people have never even heard of it now. IE6, on the other hand, has persisted thanks to too many developers targeting the browser instead of the standard, making corporate IT departments reluctant to move users to the next release. Let's not count the tie to the operating system and the inherent fear of upgrading from some sub-set of users.

Whatever your gripe with a technology, I think it's about time we only made the IE6 comparison when it is appropriate, not as a catch-all to something we don't like or that we think is making our job harder.

So let's start comparing things to Netscape Navigator 2 (Netscape 2, Navigator 2, NN2, NS2 and whatever other variants you want). Let's free IE6 from this burden and perhaps it will slip away into the night.

Somewhat Related on this Blog

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Flash is Dead! Long Live Flash!

Re-posted from its original home on the Algonquin Studios blog.

A lot of news has been made of Adobe’s recent move to end development of the Flash player for mobile devices (such as your smartphone or tablet). Even people outside of the tech community have heard about it and are trying to understand what it really means. I wrote up the details last month (Flash Isn’t Going Away, Except from Your Mobile) and tried to remind everyone that Adobe isn’t giving up on Flash, it’s just changing its direction on its mobile player based on industry trends.

Consider that Apple won’t allow the Flash player on its iOS devices, and that the mobile version of Windows is following suit. Consider that web developers are (finally, after a decade now) starting to focus on standards-based web development and accessibility. Consider how many different mobile devices and browser combinations exist, requiring Adobe to develop a Flash player for each.

Much of Flash on the web has been used to deliver rich multimedia experiences that either don’t translate well to mobile browsers (giant file sizes, areas too small to “click” with a finger, optimized for large displays, etc.) or can be replaced with new HTML capabilities which mobile browsers tend to support now without the Flash player (such as the lowly Flash video player).

Add all these factors together and it doesn’t make sense to push the Flash player to mobile devices any more. Adobe is instead using AIR to allow Flash developers to build native apps on the phone, bypassing the hassle of the browser plug-in altogether and still allowing those legions of Flash developers to do what they do best.

Here’s where people get confused — Flash as a platform isn’t going away. Regardless of the hype you hear about HTML5, HTML5 (including CSS3, SVG, and so on) just doesn’t have the capability (whether via the specification or by browser support) to do what Flash does. Flash is the only technology that can currently do what Flash does for such a broad audience. Its ubiquity across the web (98% installation) has guaranteed that users see what the developer wants, regardless of platform; regardless of whether or not what the developer created is any good.

This doesn’t mean we are Flash-crazy over here. Quite the opposite — we have historically counseled against Flash for web sites for many reasons, some of which are simply because it doesn’t address the goal. As we develop sites that are both mobile-friendly and desktop-friendly, we are increasingly coaching our clients on the right technologies to use to achieve their goals. Our position on Flash isn’t changing because of Adobe’s move, Adobe is simply reflecting the trend.

You can expect to see less Flash in web pages on your mobile, but you can also expect to see more of it behind the scenes in apps for mobile devices. As for your desktop browser, Adobe will release Flash players for years to come and people will still develop in it for as long as it takes HTML5 and its related specifications to finalize the rules and for the browsers to support them.