Google Wave (dev sandbox) testdrive

After the high-profile announcement of Google Wave in May things were pretty silent. Up until now that is, because last week Google invited a first batch of 100.000 users to join their new real-time communication- and collaboration-platform. I wasn’t one of the lucky 100.000, but a friend of mine already had access to the developer sandbox and I had the chance to play around with that preview-version of Wave for an hour.
Now off course the developer sandbox is not the best place to get to know Wave, as it contains a tsunami of information from the dev-channel. Moreover you’re kind of missing the point if you’re playing around in a communication- and collaboration-platform where you don’t know anyone, aren’t you? Anyhow, I did get a feel of the platform and indeed Wave is an impressive effort to redefine online communication and collaboration. It’s like a combination of the best ideas in e-mail, usenet (the threaded conversations) and irc (real-time communication) in one environment (i.e. the Wave web-client). But the realtime updates and collaboration also give it a Twitter and -even more- a Facebook feel. Wave seems to be all of that, with the potential to become even more.
But as consequence of all that richness, the interface is very complicated, with a lot of info and functionality competing for your attention. On my 1280X800 laptop screen everything looked as if it was squeezed in using brute force, in some cases resulting in overlapping text and other small layout-issues. Maximizing a wave to use the entire Wave-desktop and switching my browser to full-screen mode seemed to solve that problem, but the Wave-developers probably don’t run into such problems, having nice large high-resolution screens while coding?
tab with wave using 800mb according to chrome task manager!I guess the Rasmussen brothers not only enjoy working on large screens, their computers are bound to also have a better-than-broadband network-connection to the Wave-servers and -even more importantly- a huge amount of memory. While testing the Wave web application on my 2Gb laptop it was horribly slow to render and update on occasions. I tried Wave in Firefox 3.5.3 (both on Windows XP sp3 and Ubuntu 8.04) and in Chrome The amount of data being pulled from the internet is intimidating, but the effect it has on browser memory usage is simply frightening! While testing I have seen both Firefox and Chrome use between 0.5 and 1Gb of memory, of which at a certain point in time 800Mb were used by the tab containing Wave!
I don’t know about you, but in my book this means that Wave is de facto unusable. According to an article on Webmonkey, Google is aware of this problem as well and hopes to work around some of the biggest issues:

“Latency is an obsession of ours,” says Rasmussen.
Some limitations within the browser are keeping Wave from running as quickly as he wants. When a Wave becomes long, for example, it can take awhile to open it. The team is working on a pre-loading system where you don’t have to load the whole Wave to start reading it or adding to it, just the first couple of pages. Then as you scroll, it keeps loading, speeding things up.
Another hang-up, one typical of young web applications, is that Wave slows down after you’ve used it for a few hours. This is due to memory leaks, and refreshing the browser page or restarting the browser solves it. But plugging those holes so browser refreshes aren’t necessary is the obvious goal.

During my tests I noticed some other small bugs as well. I never succeeded in replaying a wave (a nice feature to see how a conversation evolved over time) for example. Inserting or displaying a gadget in a wave never seemed to work either.
Not withstanding these little big problems, I’m looking forward to be able to test the “normal” preview version that just got launched. I’m pretty sure it won’t suffer from the skyrocketing memory-usage issue to the same extent, largely due to the fact that the amount of information in there will be a lot less (not as much waves, not as much wavelets in waves). Now if only Google would turn my nomination into an invitation?

Voorspellingen 2009: browser-oorlog, ook mobiel

ballmer vs jobs: mobile (and/or) browser war (from aanleiding van de publicatie van de voorspellingen van 20 online experts door Netlash, zijn dit enkele van mijn verwachtingen voor het web in 2009;

  • Uw job als (front-end) webdeveloper (of tester) wordt er door de grotere concurrentie tussen browsers niet eenvoudiger op. Ge zult niet alleen moeten ontwikkelen voor Internet Explorer (het nieuwe IE8, maar ook nog altijd voor het verwenste MSIE6 en voor versie 7 natuurlijk) en Firefox, maar ook voor Safari en Google Chrome. Samen zullen deze Webkit-gebaseerde browsers eind 2009 immers tot 15% van de browsermarkt pakken (nu al 9%), tegenover 25% voor Firefox (nu 21%) en pakweg 60% voor (MS)IE (nu nog 68%). Gelukkig zult ge wel iets meer kunnen terugvallen op standaarden (MSIE6 buiten beschouwing gelaten) en zullen componenten als JQuery, YUI of Dojo uw cross-browser inspanningen blijvend verlichten.
  • Bling-developers mogen die dure cursussen Silverlight en JavaFX annuleren, Adobe blijft immers oppermachtig met Flash en -ondanks de gigantische hype in 2008 in veel mindere mate- met het nauw verwante Flex. 2009 zal overigens niet het jaar van Flash op mobile zijn. Een volwaardige versie van Flash voor GSM’s zal immers pas op het einde van het jaar uitkomen en zal dan nog enkel vlot werken op smartphones met ARM Cortex gebaseerde processoren, die nu ook nog niet te koop zijn.
  • Webagencies staan voor een belangrijke uitdaging; “mobiel internet” groeit (mede dankzij krachtige Webkit-gebaseerde mobile browsers) zowel aan vraag- als aanbodkant en kosten-bewuste klanten zullen convergentie tussen hun mobiele en hun “gewone” website hoog op het verlanglijstje hebben staan. Mobiel web wordt dé groeipool, ge kunt dus maar beter mee zijn, zowel functioneel (“mobile usability“) als technisch (er is meer dan Mobile Safari, niet iedereen heeft een uitgebreid toetsenbord en device-dependant rendering is een moving target).

En voor een recessie tenslotte, heb ik in 2009 echt geen tijd. U ook niet, toch?

Firefox 3.1; Mozilla Corp’s answer to Google Chrome

Firefox 3.1 is just around the corner and I’ve been using the beta’s for a couple of months now, but I didn’t really feel the urge to write about it up until now. But with things heating up between Google Chrome (already out of beta!), Safari and Firefox and with new versions of MS Internet Explorer and Opera in the making as well, one can’t really stay indifferent I guess?
First off; a non-exhaustive list of changes;

So if FF3.1 performs that great in Sunspider, does it really feel that much faster as well? To be honest; it doesn’t. Or at least, it didn’t, at first. But here’s a tip; if you’re a bit like me you’re bound to have a lot of extensions installed (and disabled and uninstalled and not compatible and …), you might have some forgotten tweak in your about:config and you probably have huge history and bookmark-databases. In that case do yourself a favor and start from scratch with a new profile and Firefox 3.1 will truly fly.
Off course not all is perfect. I don’t like the fact that tabs inadvertently get moved to a window of their own regularly. And Flash still crashes FF all too often, Firefox really needs something like the process isolation in Google Chrome and MS IE8’s loosely coupled IE, but that might be more than just a small CR.
All in all, with Firefox 3.1 the Mozilla-folks seem to have almost everything to fight the new kid in town. You can download the latest beta here and test for yourself. Let those browser-wars rage!

Hey Adobe; get your Flash together

Flash sucks! Really! It crashes my Firefox all too often (every few days, especially when behind our company proxy) and playing Flash movies consumes way too much CPU-power for my liking. Apparently Mozilla and Adobe are blaming each other with regard to some of these problems, but this really seems to be a Flash-issue;

Moreover, I found a great howto on “Bort’s w3bl0g” about how to wrap Flash inside NSPluginWrapper in (Ubuntu) Linux, isolating Firefox from Flash-crashes. I’ll try that over the weekend, but it sure looks great!
But anyway; Adobe, get your shit together!