Fronteers conference in Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Around 200 web standards enthusiasts came to Amsterdam, Holland last week to attend the first Fronteers conference. The conference, initiated by well-known blogger Peter-Paul-Koch of Quirksmode.org fame and other Fronteers members, was bringing subject matter experts to the Dutch developer community for an affordable price and aimed to "deep-dive" on different subjects instead of delivering blue-sky, purely inspirational talks.

fronteers 2008

Here are my impressions of the two days and I will only cover the talks and panels I saw or participated in.


The conference was located in the Pakhuis De Zwijger building in Amsterdam and covered mainly CSS and JavaScript. The venue was very adequate, with surprisingly fast and available wireless and two halls - a large one to host the main talks and hold all attendees and a smaller break-out room to host expert panels that were aimed to allow attendees to ask the experts their questions. The really challenging thing however were the stairs, which are built to Dutch standards but would make English or US health and safety departments wonder.

The first day started for me with Bert Bos' talk about the CSS box model. Bert is a very famous W3C member and mathematician by heart and delivered an amazingly detailed talk about the box model, its math calculations and implications and showed some of the upcoming typography improvements in CSS as a small extra.

Following was the panel on professionalism by members of Fronteers and Chris Mills of Opera. Chris was advocating for making sure that future web developers get a professional start into the subject matter by getting exposure to the Web Standards Curriculum, a Creative Commons licensed article series spanning from "what is the web" to "write ajax applications using best practices".

Next up was a JavaScript expert panel with Stuart Langridge, author of DHTML Utopia, Dean Edwards, author of ie7.js and me. The idea was to allow the audience to ask any JavaScript questions and us trying to answer so to say straight from the horse's mouth. The panel went well, but we got a bit stuck arguing about the right way to create links that point to JavaScript functionality. This is being researched soon and we will report the results.

Stephen Hay was up next, covering Maintainable CSS. You might not have heard about Stephen, but he was one of the people responsible for the Cinnamon Interactive web site - one of the first sites that looked very pretty and did not use tables for layout. Stephen made some very good points in terms of making CSS work with large teams and it was very enjoyable to see him speak in detail about things that have been ailing him for a while.

This concluded day one and we all repaired to a bar on a boat nearby to have some non-alcoholic refreshing beverages and go to bed early in order to be fresh and receptive the next morning*.

* Real events might have varied.

The second day of Fronteers2008 started with Pete LePage showing off the Internet Explorer 8 beta features. We are in for a treat, IE8 looks like a really nice browser and some of the detail features are great (ohhashchange event for Ajax bookmarking and history seeding without iframe hacks, web slices, accellerators). Kudos to Pete pulling off a great presentation to a room of developers who basically had to hack around IE for the last few years and get them excited about what's to come.

The second JavaScript panel was next featuring again Dean Edwards, Gerbert Kaandorp of backbase.com and Tom Occhino of the MooTools core team. The second panel went well, too, and this time they collected questions before the panel and went through them one by one.

Next up was my turn to talk about Maintainable JavaScript:

It was a bit of a tricky talk, as I didn't want to repeat my arguments from Seven Reasons for Code Bloat whilst not being too technical. I think I managed to pull it off, covering rearchitecting and refactoring scripts, good documentation and how to create it from comments in the code and some thoughts on code standards.

The real deep-dive into subject matter came after me in the form of Stuart Langridge talking about JavaScript Closures and explaining that a lot about them is a Zen thing and once you found enlightenment, everything will be easy. Well, I thoroughly enjoyed it and have to agree.

The conference ended with Andy Clarke explaining in detail how understanding and implementing positioning in CSS can lead to rich and beautiful web sites and how we should not see technical boundaries but embrace visual richness and interaction by challenging ourselves.

All in all Fronteers was a conference well worth visiting and I hope that there will be another one next year. For now, check the slide page on the web-site to learn about the presentations I missed.

Hats off to the Fronteers, keep fighting the good fight!

Chris Heilmann
Yahoo Developer Network