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Auckland September Web Meetup Recap

I just attended the September Auckland Web Meetup, which had a full house of 200, free beer and pizza, and interesting presentations on the direction of web browsers.

To kick things off Microsoft technical evangelist Giorgio Sardo introduced IE8, which looks to be the most standards compliant browser from MS yet. Giorgio emphasized the large number of test cases IE8 has undergone. Giorgio showed some scripting and JSON encoding/decoding in IE8. He then went on to demo a cross-browser comparison tool, SuperPreview, which can be run as a stand-alone app or as part of Expression Web 3. A free version to compare the different versions of Internet Explorer is available here. The paid version includes other browsers in the comparison beyond Internet Explorer.

After pizza and drinks, Robert O’Callahan and the Mozilla team showed some of the upcoming features of Firefox. Some highlights included:

  • Support for accelerometers – with the necessary hardware the browser can recognize the tilt and orientation of the viewing device.
  • WebWorkers – An API for asynchronous JavaScript threaded processes (multiple processes running at the same time). Quite interesting!
  • Drag and Drop, between browser windows, and from the desktop.
  • 2D drawing using the Canvas tag – A simple vector example with apparent rigid body dynamics was shown.
  • 3D rendering using WebGL – This was the classic “3D teapot” demo, and I was quite impressed since performance seemed very good in the example.
  • Video tag – A variety of video scenarios were shown, such as a plain video tag with the browser’s built-in controls (for play, etc.), one that used JavaScript/CSS to overlay subtitles on the video, and some impressive examples that introduced an image into a green-screened video using just the browser. Also shown was overlaying and manipulating pictures, video, text, and Canvas elements on top of a video that had two reference points, a sort of augmented reality demo. This reminded me a lot of what can be done with BitmapData in ActionScript. A final demo on motion tracking was too cutting edge and crashed the browser.
  • DOM storage – an better alternative to cookies for local storage.
  • Client-side database storage – Robert cautioned that this may be a bit in the future yet, but the idea is to have a database on the client that can be used for storage, with the potential to have web applications that when offline work better than previously possible.
  • Geolocation – Allows the browser to notify websites where you are located.

It was all very interesting. I wouldn’t say I saw anything terribly innovative in its own right, since overall these are technologies that currently or will shortly exist through other means (such as Flash, AIR, Silverlight, etc.), but to see these built directly in a browser is interesting and may open these tools up to a wider field of developers.

UPDATE October 4, 2009: I forgot to mention Geolocation, it’s been added.