Apple, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla agree on something: Make web dev lives easier

Browser makers set aside differences

Browser makers Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla, along with software consultancies Bocoup and Igalia, have agreed to work together to make web design technologies perform in a more consistent way across different platforms.

The group has created a benchmark called Interop 2022 to assess how a handful of web standards get implemented by different vendors, with an eye toward ironing out differences. The idea is that web applications should look and behave the same way across different devices and operating systems. At the moment, that's not the case, to the chagrin of web developers who still wrestle with browser inconsistencies.

"For the first time ever, all major browser vendors, and other stakeholders, have come together to solve the top browsers compatibility issues identified by web developers," said Rachel Andrew, Philip Jägenstedt, and Robert Nyman from Google, in a blog post on Thursday.

There was a similar web tech compatibility check called Compat 2021 that began in 2019 and showed up last year. It focused on five pain points – CSS Flexbox, CSS Grid, position: sticky, aspect-ratio, and CSS transforms – but did not include Apple or its WebKit team, at least publicly.

Interop 2022 measures how well the major browsers perform on test suites for 15 web platform specifications and three capabilities currently being investigated that aren't fully specified. These include: Cascade layers, Color spaces and CSS color functions, New viewport units, Scrolling, and Subgrid.

The Interop 2022 specs offer a way for firms that are ordinarily rivals to find common ground because they're design-oriented and lack obvious privacy, security, or functional implications.

Other efforts to expand the capabilities of browsers through new APIs and features are sometimes met with indifference or antipathy by rival browser makers, particularly when the proposal has business model implications.

Apple, for example, has been slow to implement certain web APIs in Safari and WebKit that would help web apps compete against native iOS apps. Google, meanwhile, decided to come up with a new privacy-preserving way to deliver ads (its Privacy Sandbox) after Apple, Brave, and Mozilla went on a web cookie diet. And then there was that time in 2019 when Google blocked a proposed revision of the charter of the W3C's Privacy Interest Group for fear the change would interfere with its ability to innovate.

Only in the past year or so, as regulators have pressed both Apple and Google on competition issues, has there been more of an effort among the top browser makers to work together rather than race one another to deliver features that lack broad buy-in.

Now, we have Apple web development evangelist Jen Simmons insisting, "We care deeply about the health of the web, and interoperable implementations of web standards." That's just the opposite of what many web developers have been saying for years.

The Interop 2022 test dashboard measures how browsers perform on the various benchmarks. With regard to stable browser releases, things look pretty bad. Chrome and Edge score 61 out of 100; Firefox scores 69; and Safari scores 50. But the various experimental and preview browser releases show improved results: 71, 74, and 73 respectively.

This bit of technical coordination and cooperation among the browser-making rivals looks like it will be good for the web and those who use it.

"In essence, the goal is to make the web platform more usable and reliable for developers, so that they can spend more time building great web experiences instead of working around browser inconsistencies," explained Andrew, Jägenstedt, and Nyman. ®

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