Archive for the 'Microsoft Internet Explorer' Category

A Relevant Tower of Babel

The Tower of Babel is frequently used as a symbol of foreign languages. For example, several language software packages are named after it, such as the Babylon electronic dictionary, MediaWiki’s Babel extension and the Babelfish translation service (itself named after the Babel fish from The Hitchhiker’s Guide).

In this post I shall use the Tower of Babel in a somewhat more relevant and specific way: It will speak about multilingualism and about Babel itself.

This is how most people saw the Wikipedia article about the Tower of Babel until today:

The Tower of Babel article. Notice the pointless squares in the Akkadian name. They are called "tofu" in the jargon on internationalization programmers.

The tower of Babel. Notice the pointless squares in the Akkadian name. They are called “tofu” in the jargon on internationalization programmers.

And this is how most people will see it from today:

And we have the name written in real Akkadian cuneiform!

And we have the name written in real Akkadian cuneiform!

Notice how the Akkadian name now appears as actual Akkadian cuneiform, and not as meaningless squares. Even if you, like most people, cannot actually read cuneiform, you probably understand that showing it this way is more correct, useful and educational.

This is possible thanks to the webfonts technology, which was enabled on the English Wikipedia today. It was already enabled in Wikipedias in some languages for many months, mostly in languages of India, which have severe problems with font support in the common operating systems, but now it’s available in the English Wikipedia, where it mostly serves to show parts of text that are written in exotic fonts.

The current iteration of the webfonts support in Wikipedia is part of a larger project: the Universal Language Selector (ULS). I am very proud to be one of its developers. My team in Wikimedia developed it over the last year or so, during which it underwent a rigorous process of design, testing with dozens of users from different countries, development, bug fixing and deployment. In addition to webfonts it provides an easy way to pick the user interface language, and to type in non-English languages (the latter feature is disabled by default in the English Wikipedia; to enable it, click the cog icon near “Languages” in the sidebar, then click “Input” and “Enable input tools”). In the future it will provide even more abilities, so stay tuned.

If you edit Wikipedia, or want to try editing it, one way in which you could help with the deployment of webfonts would be to make sure that all foreign strings in Wikipedia are marked with the appropriate HTML lang attribute; for example, that every Vietnamese string is marked as <span lang=”vi” dir=”ltr”>. This will help the software apply the webfonts correctly, and in the future it will also help spelling and hyphenation software, etc.

This wouldn’t be possible without the help of many, many people. The developers of Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari, Microsoft Internet Explorer and Opera, who developed the support for webfonts in these browsers; The people in Wikimedia who designed and developed the ULS: Alolita Sharma, Arun Ganesh, Brandon Harris, Niklas Laxström, Pau Giner, Santhosh Thottingal and Siebrand Mazeland; The many volunteers who tested ULS and reported useful bugs; The people in Unicode, such as Michael Everson, who work hard to give a number to every letter in every imaginable alphabet and make massive online multilingualism possible; And last but not least, the talented and generous people who developed all those fonts for the different scripts and released them under Free licenses. I send you all my deep appreciation, as a developer and as a reader of Wikipedia.


Mongol Bichig, or why Microsoft Internet Explorer is better than Firefox, Chrome and Opera

After writing this post I found out that Google Chrome, in fact, does support vertical Mongolian text.

The title of this post is designed to catch the eye. Microsoft Internet Explorer is not better than Firefox, Chrome and Opera – it’s worse than them in every imaginable regard.

Except one: the support for Mongol Bichig, the vertical Mongolian script.

Text in vertical Mongolian

Text in vertical Mongolian

Mongolian script is unique: its letters are connected, similarly to Arabic and its lines are written vertically. About three million Mongols in the independent republic of Mongolia use this script mostly for historical purposes, and use the Cyrillic script in their daily life, but the classical vertical script is the regular script for nearly six million Mongols in China – that’s about twice as much people.

The only browser that is able to display the vertical Mongolian script is Microsoft Internet Explorer. I don’t really know why Microsoft bothered to do it; maybe because the government of the People’s Republic of China demanded it. If that is true, then i salute the government of the People’s Republic of China. And i definitely salute Microsoft. I don’t like Microsoft’s insistence on keeping their code proprietary, but pioneering the support for this script, or any other, is praiseworthy.

I am very sad that at this time i cannot recommend my Mongolian friends to use my favorite browser, Firefox, or other modern browsers such as Google Chrome and Opera. For all their modernity, speed, feature richness and standards compliance, they are useless to over six million people who want to read and write in the vertical Mongolian script. At most, these browsers can display the script horizontally and with some letters incorrectly rendered. This also means that the only useful operating system for these people is Microsoft Windows.

One explanation that i heard for not supporting the vertical Mongolian script is that the CSS writing modes standard is not completely defined. This is actually a good and even noble reason, but when the most basic ability to read a language is in question, experimental support is better than no support.

So, which modern free browser will be the first to support the Mongolian script? I guess that it will be Firefox, given its excellent track record in supporting Unicode, and that Google Chrome will follow it after three years or so. But if Chrome developers surprise me and get there first, i’ll be just as happy. In any case, i am waiting impatiently, along with more than six million Mongols.

* * *

A completely unrelated postscript, intentionally hidden here, feel free to stop reading now: This morning i woke up to find that my Planet Mozilla feed was filled with reactions to a post by Gervaise Markham a.k.a. Gerv, in which he advocated keeping marriage defined as a union between a man and a woman, essentially opposing gay marriage. A lot of people were angry that anti-gay comments appear in a Mozilla-related feed and a lot of people were angry that anything off-topic appears there. Some people supported Gerv in different ways.

Gerv is a very well-known and very talented Mozilla programmer, and also a devout Christian. His blog is called “Hacking for Christ”. There’s nothing weird or wrong about it – there are many other excellent Christian hackers, like Perl’s Larry Wall and Jonathan Worthington and Mozilla’s Jonathan Kew. Gerv’s comment wasn’t particularly hateful; as it often goes, it focused on the legal side of things. Gerv is also an unusually charming person; i had the pleasure to meet him in Berlin.

All that said, i support gay marriage, i don’t support Gerv’s comment and i think that he shouldn’t have post it that way. But once he did, hey – water under the bridge. I care much more about his contributions to Mozilla’s code than about his social, legal and religious opinions.

And the loveliest part of it all is that in one the many comments to his post, i found a link to the play “8”, about the fight for recognizing gay marriage in California. On one hand, it’s a very well played PR stunt, with the highest league stars such as like Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Martin Sheen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Bacon, Yeardley Smith, John C. Reilly and George Takei. On the other hand, it’s actually worth watching. If this is what came out of that poorly placed blog post, then i’m not complaining.

Why Google Chrome Will Make the Web Worse Than Television

I know very few people who still watch television.

Television is boring, pointless and hopelessly outdated. For some reason millions of people still watch it, but it’s a matter of time until the whole industry will crumble like the governments of the USSR and Libya did, and we shall wonder why did it take so long. It will be painful to some people who make their living from it, but it will happen.

The future of entertainment and broadcasting is shaping now, and the direction is not bad. With each version of the modern web browsers – Firefox, Chrome and Opera – embedding video into pages is getting easier and works better. Users are forced less and less to install proprietary and unstable plugins. Flash is becoming a thing of the past, with YouTube working without it just as well. Diverse people create excellent music and films in their homes and they are able to publish it instantly. Business models for getting people to pay for DRM-free video and music are improving, too, for everybody’s benefit.

For some reason, however, Google and Microsoft aren’t happy about these perfectly sensible developments. They are proposing to add DRM – Digital Restriction Management – to the HTML standard. This weird document says that “No ‘DRM’ is added to the HTML5 specification“, but a document that speaks about encrypting and “protecting” content is a document about DRM. This is not “protection”, but restriction, and it is defective by design.

Preventing the copying of music and video files is not actually important to Google or to the media production companies. They will find ways to charge money for music and video. They rather want to know who is listening to what, to know what to produce and to whom to sell it. Google is essentially an advertising company, and an advertising company’s biggest asset is demographic data about people’s tastes and customs.

This is a grave privacy concern, of course, but there are enough privacy geeks to write about that. I’m not much of a privacy geek; what i really care about for this matter is the future of culture. Culture has to be interesting, vibrant and constantly innovative. When advertisers and media providers know the tastes of the “consumers” too well, culture tends to repeat itself and become very bad. Much like television in the last few years.

It is highly unlikely that the W3C will accept this proposal and make it standard. W3C dislikes DRM to begin with, Mozilla representatives in the W3C will definitely oppose to it, and even Google’s own W3C representative isn’t enthusiastic about it. Nevertheless, it’s easy to imagine that Google will implement this proposal in Chrome, and Microsoft will implement it in Internet Explorer. Then they will set up several websites with “partners” who will provide “content” that cannot be played without this DRM scheme, and this will pull more people into using these browsers and lock them into a nightmare of pointless, recycled, creativity-stifling entertainment.

I am a Mozillian. You may think that this means that i want Firefox’s market share to be 100%. That is not what i want. I love the web and i want it to be great for all people, no matter which browser they use. Building Digital Restriction Management into browsers will make the web, and the whole culture around it, bad and boring.

Don’t let that happen to the web. If you care about culture and arts, use Firefox – a browser that is committed to openness and not to advertising revenue.

MozCamp Berlin 2011, part 1

On November 12–13 i participated in MozCamp Berlin. (I’m writing this late-ish, because a day after that i went to India to participate in a Wikimedia conference and not one, but two hackathons. That was a crazy month.)

In the past i participated in small events of the Israeli Mozilla community, but this was my first major Mozilla-centric event.

MozCamp Berlin 2011 group photo

MozCamp Berlin 2011 group photo. Notice the fox on the left and yours truly on the right.

The biggest thing that i take from this event is the understanding that i belong to this community of people who love the web. I never properly realized it earlier; i somehow thought that loving the web is a given. It is not.

Johnathan Nightingale, director of Firefox Engineering repeated the phrase “we <3 the web” several times in his keynote speech. And this is the thing that makes the Mozilla community special.

Firefox is not the only good web browser. Opera and Google Chrome are reasonably good, too. Frankly, they are even better than Firefox in some features, though i find them less essential.

Firefox is not the only web browser that strives to implement web standards. Opera, Google Chrome and even recent versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer try to do that, too.

Firefox is not even the only web browser that is Free Software. So is Chromium.

But Firefox and the Mozilla community around it love the web. I don’t really have a solid way to explain it – it’s mostly a feeling. And with other browsers i just don’t have it. They help people surf the web, but they aren’t in the business of loving it.

And this is important, because the Internet is not just a piece of technical infrastructure that helps people communicate, do business and find information and entertainment. The Internet is a culture in itself – worthy of appreciation in itself and worthy of love in itself – and the Mozilla community is there to make it happen.

Some people would understand from this that Firefox is for the nerds who care about the technology more than they care about going out every once in a while. It isn’t. It’s not, in fact, just about a browser. It’s about the web – more and more Mozilla is not just developing a great browser, but also technologies and trends that affect all users of all browsers, rather than target markets. By using Firefox you get as close as you can to the cutting edge, not just of cool new features, but of openness and equality. Some people may find this ideology boring and pointless; i find it important, because without it the Internet would not be where it is today. Imagine an Internet in which the main sites you visit every day are not Facebook, Wikipedia, Google and your favorite blogs, but… and nothing but Without Mozilla that’s how the Internet would probably look today. Without Mozilla something like this may well happen in the future.

Thanks a lot to William Quiviger, Pierros Papadeas, Greg Jost and all the other hard-working people who produced this great event.

More about it in the next couple of posts very soon.

On Microsoft Internet Explorer

There is no Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Safari on Windows

Apple released a beta version of Safari for Windows.

Good points:

  • It seems pretty fast, despite its stupid GUI (see below).
  • It loads very quickly.
  • It seems to use less memory – 25MB upon loading compared to Firefox’s 35MB and Internet Explorer’s 31MB (this was a very crude comparison, though).
  • It stole a lot of icons from Firefox, but unlike the Internet Explorer folks, they didn’t take the RSS icon.
  • It’s good for testing sites.
  • It’s Free Software (although i haven’t look at the details of plugins etc.)
  • Ctrl-T and middle-click open a new tab, which is very important (but see below).
  • Hebrew in websites seems to work correctly (but see below).

Bad points:

  • It has a very Mac-style GUI. All-gray tones, flat buttons. Despite this, the browser seems pretty fast (see above).
  • The preferences dialog doesn’t have OK, Apply and Cancel; Closing the window means OK, although in the Windows world it usually means Cancel, which is very confusing.
  • Mouse wheel doesn’t work.
  • Middle click doesn’t close an open tab, which is standard in Firefox and Internet Explorer. It’s pretty annoying.
  • Hebrew text appears in reverse in the GUI of the browser, although it appears correctly in the sites themselves.

The worst point is the mouse wheel. I use it a lot and i surely hope that it’s just a bug and not a stupid feature devised by Apple to make usage simpler (it’s all too easy to imagine Apple UI engineers say something like “Most users don’t understand how to use the mouse wheel anyway and Mac users do very well without it.”) So for me it’s a show-stopper and i’m sticking with Firefox, although it is useful for testing. Hey, i am loyal to Firefox even on Linux, where i can use Konqueror which is the origin of Safari.