Web Developers Launch Browser Wish List

The OpenAjax Alliance establishes a Future Browser Feature Wish List to identify capabilities developers hope to see in next-generation browsers.

The OpenAjax Alliance has come up with a "Future Browser Feature Wish List" that currently tallies 37 features that Web developers deem necessary for future browsers to take the Web to the next level.

The group's goal is an ambitious one, but an important step in taking the Web forward, as developers continue efforts to add new features to browsers and to standardize the browser platform.

Coach Wei, founder and chairman of Nexaweb Technologies and chair of the community effort at the OpenAjax Alliance called "Ajax Runtime Feature Wish List," said, "From this initiative, it is clear that the community is looking for 'better' browsers going forward with enthusiasm, and also clear what the community is looking for. However, the gap from where we are today and where we want to be is clear as well. There is a lot of work to do. OpenAjax will continue to work on this, hopefully getting browser vendors to listen to us."

Dylan Schiemann, CEO of SitePen and co-creator of the Dojo Toolkit, participated in the conception of the feature wish list and said he hopes the OpenAjax Alliance "has enough clout for browser vendors to take action."

Moreover, "If this makes a difference and causes browser vendors to step up their game and deliver a browser that is better for developers and users, then it will be worth the effort," Schiemann said. "If not, well, then it will be like Mac Office 2008 all over again ... compatible but not worth using unless you have to."

However, "To be fair, the list is not just Microsoft," Schiemann said. "There are a number of great ideas on this list that are needed to move the open Web forward and make it less 'hacky.' It would certainly allow SitePen and Dojo to focus on building better apps rather than working around browser limitations that developers have fought with for years."

Initially the OpenAjax Alliance had a list of 55 features on its wish list, but whittled that down to 37. The top 10 most requested features, in order, are: 2-D Drawing/Vector Graphics, Better Security for Cross-site Scripts, Better APIs About Positioning and Styling, HTML DOM (Document Object Model) Operation Performance in General, Better Support for Rich Text Editing, The Two HTTP Connection Limit Issue, Better UI Layout Support, Native JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) Parsing, Persistent Connections Issue, and Video and Audio.

In a July 17 blog post about the wish list, Wei said, "Among all the feature requests, 2-D Drawing/Vector Graphics is clearly the most desired feature by the community. It received most votes (110 people voted for it), and highest total score (842, over 10 percent higher than the second feature request)."

In addition, Wei said browser teams should look at the entire list of requested features:

"Although we have identified the top 10 feature requests, the browser teams should study the entire list because all features might represent critical requirements or are just great ideas for advancing the Web. It is possible that some of the features that received fewer votes are critical to a particular but important niche or that only a subset of participants is close enough to the bleeding edge to see an impending but critical requirement."

Wei also said the next step for the wish list effort is to communicate with browser vendors. "We have had calls with some of the browser vendors such as the Microsoft IE [Internet Explorer] team during Phase I" of the project, he said. "OpenAjax Alliance will try to get in touch (or continue) the dialogue with browser vendors to convey what the community is looking for."

Moreover, on the issue of graphics, Wei said:

"AJAX developers today are achieving astoundingly rich graphics effects through clever techniques leveraging JavaScript, CSS, image, and whatever vector graphics features they can find-usually, SVG [Scalable Vector Graphics], VML [Vector Markup Language] and Canvas-but browser differences are a major pain point among AJAX developers. Mozilla, WebKit and Opera support both Canvas and SVG with good interoperability (although Mozilla does not yet support SVG animations). IE is the holdout. The call to action is for all browsers, particularly IE, to support both of the industry standards for 2-D vector graphics, SVG (the DOM-based standard) and Canvas (the procedural-based standard)."

Meanwhile, there were six new features that came along too late for the community to vote on their relative importance. The six new features are ECMA4 JavaScript2, Field to input multiple files, Allow JavaScript access to file upload statistics, Allow user finer control over rich content than JavaScript On/Off, Memory Footprint and Enforce semantic tagging of data transmitted from browser.

"I'm for anything that gets the Web to move forward faster, and in my discussions with browser vendors over the past couple of years it has become evident that high-quality prioritization information from AJAX developers is important in helping them make decisions," said Alex Russell, co-creator of the Dojo Toolkit and head of the Dojo Foundation, which is a member of the OpenAjax Alliance. "Lots of people want lots of things from browsers, which makes it difficult for browser vendors to know what to take seriously."

Russell added, "I think the OpenAjax Alliance list is important since it represents the needs of many of the developers and vendors who are pushing browsers to their current limits. In many cases, the features on the list are a plea for ubiquity and not just a single vendor to implement, and those things should weigh doubly on the minds of product managers at the browser-producing organizations."