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Google's retreat on Pointer Events makes life harder for web developers

Mary Branscombe | Aug. 21, 2014
For the next ten years, touch is all that matters, says Google. It's reversing its decision to add the Pointer Events standard to Chrome, meaning web developers lose what could be their best chance to get a single API for handling touch, mouse and pen input.

Microsoft, Google, and web standards dance

You might know the apocryphal Chinese curse, "may you live in interesting times." But fewer people are familiar with the other two passive-aggressive wishes that go with it: "may you come to the attention of your superiors" and "may you get what you desire."

Web developers and browser makers who used to wish that Microsoft would pay attention to web standards certainly got what they wished for. In the old days, IE didn't implement anything new — including new standards. Since the change of attitude with IE 9, IE has implemented standards if they're widely used, stable and don't seem fundamentally flawed to Microsoft. Thanks to the new continuous development policy for IE, Microsoft can support new standards without waiting to ship IE 12. That means IE is doing better at staying current with standards, when they fit those three criteria.

So, for example, WebGL — a JavaScript API for rendering interactive graphics — didn't make it into IE until the standard changed to avoid the security problems the IE team was concerned about. The still-in-progress WebRTC protocol, for real-time communications like live chat, isn't going into IE until the standard sorts out issues with codecs, privacy and the inefficiency of the Session Description Protocol used to negotiate connections. (The Object RTC APIs are an attempt to address those issues and they're what IE will implement. Google is part of the ORTC development group alongside Microsoft — including the original WebRTC authors — and the first ORTC APIs will be part of WebRTC 1.)

The Web Audio API, for controlling sound from a browser, is still at the working draft stage at the W3C, but it's already in other browsers and the IE team is working on adding it. But Web MIDI, which proposes to implement the MIDI protocol used by electronic devices to communicate with one another, is at an earlier draft stage and isn't implemented in any other browsers. So it's listed at as "not currently planned."

Microsoft is even making its own proposals at the W3C, some of which have been enthusiastically adopted — especially the performance-related interfaces that let web developers understand more about how a page loads.

Microsoft's newly polished enthusiasm for standards is an obvious contrast to Apple, which hasn't taken proprietary Safari features that many web developers use to any standards body (or indeed the FaceTime protocol — despite early promises), hasn't produced a WebRTC implementation (so far the only WebRTC discussion Apple has joined in was the debate over whether V8 or H.264 should be the standard codec) and hasn't contributed much to recent attempts to standardise touch interactions. At the 2014 WWDC Apple finally announced it will support the IndexedDB storage API in Safari; that's a standard that's been in other browsers since Firefox 4, Chrome 11, and IE 10.


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