There has been some fun stuff today following Steve Jobs missive on Flash and standards. Joe Hewitt (former Facebook and Mozilla dev and rock star): How it should go: browsers innovate differently, users pick the best one, later W3C standardizes what users chose, losing browsers conform.

Sachin: Browsers aren’t innovating. They are just trying to comply with standards and fix bugs and performance

  • Right now browser updates fix bugs and add application features, but can’t enhance the functionality of the web. This is only done by standards boards.
  • Browsers are forced to implement every “standard” that is agreed on, even if it’s not the best decision for the platform.
  • Browsers don’t add functionality outside of standards because developers wouldn’t utilize them. This means they can’t innovate.
  • Browsers don’t even comply with standards well. Developing for the web is a disaster because every browser has its own quirks and issues. They can’t even do one thing right.

Which got me to thinking about the case of web browser standards: what good are they?

On a base level, a piece of software has to comply with some standards to be called a web browser. Can it render HTML, CSS and JS? OK, it’s probably a web browser.

But beyond that, the passion for standardization is about one particular use case: the ability to switch between different brands of software and achieving the same experience.

Think about that. If all browsers do the same thing, why would anyone switch? Do you know any normal (non-techie) person who cares about their web browser? And as browsers converge on standards, they will have even less reason to care.

Switching is a use case that applies to almost no one. And yet we obsess about it.

iPhone apps are not based on a community standard, and they often rock. People certainly like them.

Browser innovation is happening, and I am glad. I love Chrome. It competes on performance and usability. Firefox does the same, plus their add-on ecosystem.

And I understand the downside of inconsistent browsers. As a web dev, I benefit from standards. But does the consumer?

Consider what we are losing: serious innovation. It’s all happening elsewhere. Yes, browser standards do evolve as with HTML5. But as Hewitt alludes to, HTML5 is Flash 2003. If we had waited for HTML5, we’d have no web video.

Heck, I was able to do things with Filemaker in the early 90’s that I still couldn’t do on the Web in the mid-00’s. I traded “rich” for “reach”. Maybe rich is fighting back.