Weblog of Edwin Martin, webdeveloper

  1. Christian Heilmann speaks at the Fronteers conference

    Are webdevelopers elitists?

    The last couple of days I was at the Fronteers conference in Amsterdam. These were amazing days.

    The Last speaker of the conference was Christian Heilmann. He had a very nice presentation telling front end developers to reach out to other user groups like Flash or Java user groups.

    I like Christian a lot and I also like his presentations a lot. But he said something I disagree with completely.

    He talked briefly about Muse, the code name of a new Wysiwyg HTML-editor from Adobe, which is still in beta. He criticized the bad HTML output it generates. And he wondered how such a big company could deliver such a bad product. Christian also said that people should just program plain HTML because it’s so simple. And if it isn’t simple enough, we should work to make it simpler.

    Creating a webpage for today’s standards is absolutely not simple. Of course, creating a Geocities-like page is somewhat easy, but don’t we agree almost all of them were really ugly? And we should make HTML and CSS simpler? Every new iteration adds more complexity and there are really no signs that will change.

    But Christian is not alone with his critique on Muse. When Adobe released the beta, a lot of blog posts, tweets and other remarks talked about how bad an idea it was. See for example the comments .Net magazine collected in Developers respond to Adobe Muse.

    What the hell? How is it possible we think like this? Have we become elitists? Is it because we’re surrounded in our daily lives with the top 20% of the brightest people that we think creating webpages is easy? Can we really not see that writing HTML and CSS (let alone JavaScript) is very hard for the other 80% of the population? It really is. Why shouldn’t the garage owner be able to make nice webpages? Or the soccer club? That is, without typing a letter HTML or CSS?

    So why does Muse has such a bad output? Well, how do big corporations like Adobe work? You’re allowed to work for a couple of months on a new project and you’ll better make a good demo for the management, otherwise your project gets killed. So you make sure the demo looks good, everything else can be fixed later. And I’m sure the people at Muse are smart enough to eventually make the editor create really nice HTML. Remember: this was only a beta.

    Eventually Muse might even created better HTML than a hand coder. Imagine adding a carrousel or accordion to the page and all WAI-ARIA attributes are automatically applied, so the carrousel or accordion is accessible by disabled people using a screen reader. Try to find a carrousel or accordion with proper WAI-ARIA attributes in current hand coded websites.

    I really think Adobe did the right thing with Muse and I look forward to the 1.0 release next year. It allows the other 80% to create their own webpages. Of course, some people will create crap, but others will create pages with beautiful animations that are almost impossible to code by hand.

    In the end, HTML, CSS and JavaScript is just technical stuff that sits between the author and the visitor, just like an engine between the driver and his trip or optics between the one making a photo and the photo itself. Techniques used shouldn’t be relevant to the user.

    A world in which we can all participate, smart or not, is, in my opinion, a better world.


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