jQuery Europe 2013

Previously published on Today Software Magazine.

A web developer, Haymo Meran and the ghost of Prince Johann Adam Andreas von Liechtenstein walk into a palace…

Sounds like the beginning of a crazy joke but you tell that to anyone you know and they won’t have a clue what happens next. Well, unless they’ve been to or heard of jQuery Europe 2013. Truth be told, I’ve seen no actual sign that the prince’s spirit was with us, and there were 300 developers (or better said, jQuery enthusiasts), not one. The rest however is quite factual and certainly not a joke, amazing as it may sound. Yes, it was a jQuery conference that was held in an actual palace, the Palais Liechtenstein (Gartenpalais for the locals) in Vienna – to be more precise, and what an exceptional event it was!…

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the organizers: Gentics Software – and in particular to Mr. Haymo Meran (Gentics CTO and very friendly event host) for making this happen and doing a pretty good job on the ‘maiden voyage’.

Probably the only (funny) ‘negative’ thing worth mentioning is the statement that participants arriving for the conference at metro exit “Rossauer Lände” would be guided to the venue by someone in a conference T-shirt. Why is that funny, you ask? This is Vienna on the first day of the conference:
Hardly a time to go running around taking people to conferences in a T-shirt… but enough sidetracking, let’s get to the actual juicy details!

The kick-off

The conference spanned two days, from the 22nd to the 23rd of February, and was packed full of Javascript, jQuery and CSS goodness delivered by the 16 speakers, sprinkled here and there with odd bits such as singing bananas and tropical smoothies. The event kicked off with a bang! Relax, there was no shooting of any kind, security was very tight, with some very Bond-like characters keeping a close eye on everyone, as you can see below.

No, the bang I’m talking about describes the impact of the very first session, whose speaker was none other than Richard D. Worth, the executive director of the jQuery Foundation.

He presented the current state of jQuery, now at (stable) version 1.9.1, while also giving a glimpse into the future and inviting people to join the community, join the team, help improve jQuery and drive it forward. He ‘teased’ the participants with little bits of information on the next major step for jQuery, version 2.0, of which by far the most acclaimed (cheered for and loudly applauded) was the announcement that as of version 2.0, jQuery will no longer support Internet Explorer 8 or older. I know, right? Hat’s off to them for shutting the door and locking it tight and leaving the annoying little brat who always likes to do things differently out in the cold…

However, as they’re not heartless people with little mercy for the poor souls that need to have their site running on IE also, the jQuery team will be maintaining both version 1.9.1 and 2.0 in parallel, porting over to 1.9.1 any development they make on 2.0 and beyond as long as it doesn’t require insane amounts of adaptation. Mr. Worth also covered changes in jQuery-adjacent components such as jQueryUI or jQuery Mobile and brought into light several jQuery initiatives such as contribute.jquery.org (for anyone that is interested in contributing to jQuery), plugins.jquery.com (the new and improved plugin registry) or learn.jquery.com (if the URL didn’t give you a hint, this is an initiative aimed at people wanting to learn jQuery).

Next up on the list was Corey Frang, also a member of the jQuery team, who pretty much dissected a jQuery UI widget into its building blocks and showed how using the widget factory can yield some very flexible and extensible results.

Doug Neiner presented some best practices regarding separating your JavaScript/jQuery from your CSS and HTML, which will lead to much more maintainability and thus less headaches for you. He also delved into the world of CSS transitions and animations and the jQuery equivalent.

Sebastian Kurfürst showed how, using RequireJS, you can break up and organize your javascript into components and drastically improve clarity in your client-side code.

Jörn Zaeffer opened our ears and our minds to what the current web is like for those who can’t experience the world through sight, a significant category of people who we sadly often forget about. I have to admit it was very humbling, saddening even, to witness what some webpages ‘sound like’. I haven’t yet been put into a position to think much about accessibility and it’s hard to keep this aspect in mind when you’re frantically aligning pixels and adjusting colour tones, but it’s something that should always be taken into consideration. Oddly enough, making your design more accessible might actually improve it by giving it a more organized, coherent structure.

We then saw first-hand what jQuery can do on the server through a very insightful presentation by Golo Roden on Node.js, an exceptionally powerful tool for anyone interested in things like web scraping, creating lightweight high-performance web servers or data-intensive distributed applications. Or more really, my feeling after seeing a small glimpse of what can be done is something in the area of “sky’s the limit…”. That feeling was taken to new heights after watching the next speaker in action.

Sascha Wolter is probably the closest to a mad genius I’ve seen so far, but in the most absolute good way. The guy is amazing, and his keynote was nothing short of that. He did things with javascript I wouldn’t think about even on the most creative of days. From controlling LEGO robots or quad copters and sending SMS messages to coffee machines to downright making bananas sing, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and savored every fascinating little second of it (not to mention brewed up some crazy ideas of my own to try on unsuspecting people).

The day ended with the keynote talk by Christian Heilmann, who put forward an interesting question: are the tools (JavaScript libraries, frameworks, plugins, etc.) we use during development helping or hurting us? Sure, reinventing the wheel is always painstaking, laborious and often boring, but if you think about it, if people hadn’t reinvented the wheel at some point, our cars would still move around on stones instead of rubber tires (insert witty Flintstones joke). It’s good to use tools to speed up development time or bring more clarity to your code, but it’s essential to understand what’s actually behind these tools, what makes them tick, what makes them so good and what could make them even better. I think back to some numbers Mr. Worth presented in the opening talk: 55.7% of sites currently out there on the vast plains of the internet use jQuery. That’s 90.7% of the sites that use javascript. An overwhelming majority, no doubt about it, but I wonder how many of the developers that used jQuery in making those sites actually got a non-minified version of the jQuery js and actually took a peek inside to see what sort of wicked magic is behind the awesome framework that makes their lives so much easier… I think I’ll end the day with this question.

Second day of jQuery Europe 2013 (and alas the last) is upon us

Well, technically, by the time you’re reading this the present tense is highly inappropriate in the previous sentence, but my mind is often still back at the conference. I really wouldn’t have minded if it went on for another two or three days after the first two. Even more saddening, I had to leave early to catch my flight and missed the last two talks, but let’s not dwell on regrets and go through what I did manage to experience.

The day started with a great presentation on jQuery Mobile and Responsive by Todd Parker, design lead for jQuery UI and member of the jQuery Mobile team. He walked us through the built-in RWD (Responsive Web Design) capabilities of the jQuery Mobile framework and showed some real-world examples of how to use media queries and mobile-first thinking in building responsive content, be it for sites or apps. He also outlined some performance-improving techniques regarding bandwidth minimization, high-res image handling and selective layering of content and features based on device capabilities.

Maximilian Knor, a developer evangelist at Microsoft, presented how ASP.NET MVC and ASP.NET SignalR (http://www.asp.net/signalr – check it out if you haven’t already) build on top of jQuery and jQuery Mobile for client-side features and single-page applications. Mike West outlined the essentials of securing your client side code against malicious intent, be it cross-site scripting or other forms of attack. Well, to only mitigate the effects of such an attack to be honest, because though you may think ‘I’ve written my code in such a way that it’s impossible for someone to hack into it’, might make you go back and add a few layers on top of your ‘brick wall’ and even then realize it’s not strong enough. We’ll skip detailing Theodore Biadala’s bland keynote on Drupal using jQuery and jump straight to…

Patrick Lauke and “Web on TV”, describing how jQuery can be used in interactions with your TV set. By now, any respectable company that produces TVs probably has at least one representative of the SmartTV generation and in a few years we’ll probably barely remember a time when you couldn’t browse the web on your TV or watch YouTube or play Angry Birds. What this means, in addition to a whole new can of worms regarding website and app support for multiple devices, is that with some JavaScript/jQuery knowledge, you could be making interfaces or apps for people to enjoy on their TV as well (a little joke about putting someone’s Facebook wall on their actual wall comes to mind).

The last keynote I was able to attend was a sort of double-enlightenment, courtesy of Dyo Synodinos. The first step of the enlightenment was in relation to the murals on the ceiling of the large and masterfully adorned hall we were in, which depict scenes from the life of Hercules (not played by Kevin Sorbo). The second step was when I realized it was very much related to his presentation on State of the Art in Visualisations and not just introductory filler. Indeed, what was presented was very visually impressive and by all means state-of-the-art. All of the eye-candy tools such as CSS3, SVG, Canvas or WebGL were given a run through and frameworks that bring the power of these technologies into a more accessible format, such as Raphael.js, D3.js or Fabric.js, were also given a teasing peek. The show ended with some impressive examples of the above in some really creative and stunning displays.

And then I had to leave… And though I had a small measure of regret for missing a little, I was immensely satisfied with what I was able to experience over the course of the two days… And I left with a small giggle at the thought of being back for next year’s jQuery Europe, which is definitely happening according to Haymo. Considering they’ve set the bar real high with holding it in such an impressive venue this year: who knows what 2014 will bring?