At the movies, almost every thriller seems to include a moment when a character says, "That was easy ... a bit too easy." Then everything falls apart.
Stories by Peter Wayner
If you are among the fading majority, you'll be reading this story in a cavernous desktop browser with screen real estate that goes on and on like the Montana sky. If you're from the future, you're pinching and sliding your fingers over a smartphone screen that seems tiny until you stick it in a belt holster and curse because it's not small enough to fit comfortably in your pocket. The mobile Web browser may not be as easy on the eyes, but hey, you might be reading it while swinging on a hammock over a beautiful beach while drinking fancy beverages.
HTML5 heralds some nifty new features and the potential for sparking a Web programming paradigm shift, and as everyone who has read the tech press knows, there is nothing like HTML5 for fixing the Internet. Sprinkle some HTML5 into your code, and your websites will be faster and fancier -- it'll make your teeth white, too. But the reality of what HTML5 can do for those seeking native-app performance on the Web falls short of the hype.
Many cynical users assume Web browsers do little more than dutifully render HTML. The content is the most important part, they say, so it makes little difference which browser you use.
Stop. Don't look up. Don't look outside of the box, the rectangle holding this text. Can you tell me which browser you're using? Did you choose it yourself for all the right reasons? Can you explain why you're trusting your precious HTML-encoded content to this browser, the way a major league batter can explain why maple or ash and a thin or thick barrel is absolutely the right choice for sending that ball into the bleachers? Are you sure this browser is the best choice for the tags and the metadata hurling toward your computer?
The changes and enhancements to the form tags are some of the most extensive amendments to the HTML5 standard, offering a wide variety of options that once required add-on libraries and a fair amount of tweaking. All of the hard work that went into building self-checking widgets and the libraries that ensure the data is of the correct format is now being poured into the browser itself. The libraries won't be necessary -- in theory -- because the work will be done seamlessly by all browsers that follow the standard. In practice, we'll probably continue to use small libraries that smooth over slight inconsistencies.
The five characters HTML5 are now an established buzzword, found everywhere on the Web and often given top billing in slides, feature lists, and other places where terms du jour congregate. Nonprogrammers who must either manage or work with programmers are even beginning to pick up the term. Just two days ago, someone who can't manage a TV remote explained that he was sure his company's Web presence would be much better because they were using HTML5.
A car magazine once declared that a car has "character" if it takes 15 minutes to explain its idiosyncrasies before it can be loaned to a friend. By that standard, every piece of software has character -- all too often, right of the box.
In the world of enterprise programming, the mainstream is broad and deep. Code is written predominantly in one of a few major languages. For some shops, this means Java; for others, it's C# or PHP. Sometimes, enterprise coders will dabble in C++ or another common language used for high-performance tasks such as game programming, all of which turn around and speak SQL to the database.
One of the best ways to see what's changed with the ninth and newest version of Microsoft's Internet Explorer is to tune into beautyoftheweb.com and watch the words, images, and DIVs bounce around, luring the world into pretty images and information that can't sit still. "Tune in" is the appropriate verb because the experience is closer to consuming television than what the Web was once supposed to be, an endless library filled with serious knowledge that might come from an underground physics bunker in the mountains.
While it's impossible to sum up the thousands of enhancements and bug fixes both big and small, the Firefox 4 beta version brings the browser that much closer to taking over everything on the desktop. There are fewer reasons for anyone to interact with an extra plug-in or the operating system. Remember when people cared about whether a machine was Windows or Mac or a Commodore 64? Remember when software needed to be written in native code? Those days are fading away quickly as the browser is more able than ever before to deliver most of the content we might want.
Can Google Android phones compete with the Apple iPhone? A few weeks ago, Google loaned me a Nexus One smartphone for experimentation, and I've spent the time since downloading applications and writing my own code. The good news is that the platform is not only competitive but is often a better choice than the iPhone for many programmers and the enterprises that employ them.
The BlackBerry may be the most popular phone in businesses today, but the openness of the Google Android platform is attractive too. Most of the big-name apps from the iPhone world are now available for the Android.
Even though the market for Android apps is still emerging, there are a number of good programs for business users.
These eight apps allow you to open a shell, run a shell script, tap the Linux command line, or otherwise put your Android-based smartphone to productive use. Most are available in free editions, and none will set you back more than a few dollars.