Chrome broke web functionality and forgot to tell anyone • The Register


Characteristic The “browser monoculture” is often lamented as a threat to the web. According to Statistics counter, which tracks browser usage, over 70% of the market is made up of people using Google Chrome or another browser based on the underlying Chromium project.

What worries advocates of the web when they say it’s bad is that Google can effectively determine the future of the web by determining which features to support and which not to support. That’s a lot of power for a single company that also has an effective monopoly on research and advertising.

What if Chrome decides to break fundamental web functionality and doesn’t even feel the need to tell anyone?

Well, we can answer that question because that’s what Chrome did.

Earlier this year, the developers of Chrome decided that the browser should no longer support JavaScript dialogs and alert windows when called by third party iframes.

This means that if something is embedded from another website, say a YouTube video, Chrome wants to stop allowing that embedded content to call the JavaScript alert function, which opens a small alert window. Eventually, Chrome aims to completely get rid of window alerts.

So what happens when Chrome does this? At first nothing because it’s just an obscure bug in a bug tracker that only Chromium developers read. Then a Chrome developer comes to mention it in passing on Twitter. It stirs up an angry developer riot, in the face of which Chrome is delaying the move until January 2022, when it will attempt to remove features again and hope that this time no one notices.

Do you know what’s wrong here? No standards body is consulted, no public discussion takes place with other browser vendors (Mozilla always makes it look like a web browser or not). No, what happens is Google does what it wants and the web is crashing.

“Big bad company” is hardly news at this point, especially if the big company is Google, but there’s more to it going on here and it’s worth breaking it up a bit.

Stopping a feature is rare. Part of what’s amazing about the web is that you can always go on the very first web page and view it in any browser. The Web is the Web in large part because of this high level of backward compatibility. To their credit, browser makers have generally been very good at making sure changes don’t disrupt the web.

That said, change is happening. Most browsers no longer support the blinking tag. Try using the applet or AppCache – both are gone. That is, they have moved from the official web standard. Individual browsers can still support them, but they are no longer valid HTML code. Here is the key. This is exactly why we have standards bodies like the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Hypertext Web Applications Technology Working Group (WHATWG).

These are the groups where decisions about what should and shouldn’t be in HTML happen, and those decisions usually come after much discussion and testing. The WHATWG FAQ even discusses how this process should work, calling it a “very delicate effort, involving coordination between multiple implementations and extensive telemetry to quantify the number of web pages whose behavior would be altered.”

Google, known for the amount of data it collects before making changes to its own web properties, has not, to our knowledge, done any telemetry or have any idea how many web pages would be. affected by the removal of support for alerts and dialog. Google just wants them to leave so badly that they are. It’s a monopoly for you.

The WHATWG FAQ goes on to say that “When the feature is sufficiently insecure, harmful to users, or is used very infrequently, it can be done. And once the implementers agree to remove the feature from their browsers, we can work. together to remove compared to the standard. “

Part of the problem is the lack of communication. When the developer community finds out that Google is going to break a ton of websites via a tweet, you know the communication has failed. But there was a follow-up tweet which is actually a lot more disturbing than the news of the missing alert ().

The tweet comes from software engineer and Chrome manager Emily Stark, who of course speaks for herself, not Chrome, but it seems safe to assume that this thought is widespread at Google. She writing: “Major changes often happen on the web, and as a developer it is recommended that you test preview versions of major browsers for compatibility issues up front. “

First of all, she’s dead wrong – breaking changes very rarely happen on the web, and as noted, there is a process to make sure they run smoothly and are worth the “cost” of. break things. But second, and far more troubling, is the idea that web developers should continually test their websites against early versions of major browsers.

This is actually the reason why there are web standards – so developers don’t have to do silly things like continually testing their websites to make sure they’re still working. You build the site using the agreed upon standard and it runs as long as the web. Complete stop. This is the purpose of standards. For someone of considerable stature in Project Chrome to think otherwise should be a red flag.

Web Developer and Lawyer Jeremy Keith signals something else wrong with this idea. “There was an unspoken assumption that the web is built by professional web developers,” he writes. “It gave me a cold chill.”

What’s scary about the assumption is just that, it’s assumed. The idea that there might be someone sitting right now writing their first few lines of HTML code so they can launch an ostrich dedicated webpage isn’t even being considered.

What we are forced to assume in return is that Chrome is designed by professional developers working for an advertising agency with the primary purpose of creating a web browser that meets the needs of other professional developers working for potential clients. of the advertising agency.

As Keith points out, this assumption that everyone is a professional fits the currently popular web development narrative that “web development has become more complex; so complex, in fact, that only an elite priesthood is capable of building websites today. “

It’s, as Keith says, “absolute bullshit.”

I’ve been teaching people how to build things on the web (in one form or another) for almost 20 years now, and you know what? It is no more difficult to write HTML now than it was 20 years ago. The supposed complexity of the modern web is no longer necessary than it ever was. In fact, I think it is in fact the opposite.

I find myself increasingly put off by sites that are so blatantly over-designed. I started to notice the beautiful simplicity of an HTML page. The simple fact that it loads without a spinning circle makes it stand out on the web today.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the most common content on the web these days is that little spinning circle you see while you wait for simple textual content to pass through layers of unnecessary complexity before being seen.

The complexity of the modern web seems the law of diminishing returns in action. Developers keep flocking to JavaScript and we keep getting … less than what we really want.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a time and place for complexity. Building step-by-step navigation with real-time map updates requires complex JavaScript and it’s great that the modern web has the standards to make this possible. But not all web pages need to be. The web isn’t a place just for professional developers, it’s a place anyone can build just about anything, and it’s certainly not a place where Chrome can dictate the tools we use. or who can participate. The Web is for everyone, not just for developers.

Just a friendly reminder, Firefox is an excellent web browser. ®

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