I’m reading articles on new features in the CSS media queries level 4 spec. Items such as luminosity, which allow you to adjust the styling on your app depending on three grades of environmental brightness. This means you could adjust that bright white as it gets darker, so that it doesn’t blind someone who’s trying to read it in a darkened room (I had this experience this morning when the auto-brightness setting on my nexus decided that full-on-bright was what I needed while triaging my email at 6am, with the lights off).

It’s a pretty nifty feature, and once people start using it we’ll probably all reap the benefit.

The problem is that as of now, it’s pretty much only in a limited set of web browsers. Even though I have a laptop with an ambient lighting sensor, I’ll never see this work properly anytime in the near future.

The next thing I was reading was about making non-rectangular clipping areas for text so that it would flow around images. Looks pretty awesome, and makes things look more like a desktop publishing environment. Only available in Chrome Canary (which means, at the moment, the most bleeding-edge version of Chrome). Which makes it another feature that we have to wait for.

C++11 introduced some nice features such as Lambdas, which allow you to define the work to be done on something in the same place as the request to perform the work. It’s pretty nice as you can in-line work quite easily, whereas in previous languages you relied on an external function, typically with pointers to a data blob… the whole thing was quite tedious and leads to difficult to understand code. Again, you need a modern compiler that understands the C++11 syntax, but once you have it, it’s plain sailing. You ever tried to compile gcc… it’s fun times for all 😉

Again, a new feature, but it generally comes with a whole bunch of things that have to change to support it.

This is where the disappointment comes in. All these shiny features are available on the shiniest of newest systems. As developers, we like having the newest stuff – from operating systems to development environments, to programming languages. They all provide us with the ability to do our jobs better, and in a more efficient manner. It also allows us to royally screw things up much more rapidly, and then fix it so you almost don’t notice that it happened.

That’s not where most of the world lies. Most folks are living in the ‘it got installed, I’m not touching it’ world. It makes things difficult for us developers as we have to match up our work to what functions in their environment. That means we can’t use the newest version of X, because that’s not going to be present on the end-user’s system.

There is a sliver of bright light in the form of the automatic update. If you’re using Google Chrome, or any recent version of Firefox then unless you change something, it will always be silently updating to the newest version behind your back. This means that the next time you start it up, you’ve got the latest and greatest available. All the features are present. Unfortunately, this also means that the changes can trigger failures. This can be caused by a lack of testing, or a lack of backwards compatibility.

When it happens because of a lack of backwards compatibility, then people get genuinely angry – it used to work and now it simply doesn’t, and for no reason whatsoever. On Internet Explorer we have the ‘do the wrong thing’ switch, which causes the browser to act in the old, bad way, so that a user’s experience does not change when they install the newer browser.

I don’t think this is really going anywhere, so I’ll leave it as-is then.