Desktop developments

Jordan isn't entirely down on the desktop, however, believing that streamlined navigation metaphors for mobile created in 2009 will make people take a second look at how equivalents are fashioned for the desktop.

In any case, 2009 looks to be an exciting year for desktop browsers regardless. Major changes are on the way and, for once, these should impact positively on designers. Those we spoke to were largely split between cheerleading about web standards coming of age and the potential for increasingly rich online experiences due to animation, 3D and video. All were excited about what the near future will bring.

"With Chrome, WebKit on more and more phones and particularly with Internet Explorer 8, standards-based design will finally complete its transition from vanguard to mainstream," predicts Happy Cog head honcho Jeffrey Zeldman.

He concludes that anyone happy to code to the quirks of a dominant browser, ignoring the importance of clean, semantic mark-up, CSS layout and unobtrusive DOM-based scripting, will come rapidly unstuck. "Accessible and standards-based design will be the norm, although this means it'll cease to become a sufficient point of differentiation – just being a standards-based designer will no longer be enough to get work."

Jakob Nielsen is more cautious, arguing that with Internet Explorer 8 on the way, it's only safe to author for version 6. Tom Dougherty also feels shackled by legacy systems, but he reckons 2009 might see obsolete browsers ditched unusually quickly.

"Some of the big boys – including Apple and 37signals – have loudly stopped supporting Internet Explorer 6, and sites like Facebook inform users that their browsing experience will be inferior," he points out. Coupled with increased competition from Chrome, Dougherty hopes Internet Explorer 6's browser share will be negligible by the end of 2009.

This might also provide designers with more scope for layout, if CSS3 becomes well supported. "I can't wait for that moment," says on-IDLE's Marc Peter. "It'll provide so much scope for intricate, multi-column page layouts – although 2009's biggest headache will probably be how browsers cope with them!"

Flash-forward

Elsewhere, Flash and JavaScript appear poised for battle, with scripting having stolen much of Flash's thunder in 2008. However, Adobe's not resting on its laurels and was the sole software manufacturer our interviewees were excited by.

Ken Martin of BLITZ is eagerly awaiting Thermo – a rapid prototyping application for "ideas communication and increasing the fidelity of information architecture", while Eric Jordan is excited about Configurator, a utility designed for creating custom panels for Photoshop. "By tailoring the interface," he notes, "designers can make the application everything they need and nothing they don't."

It's mostly Flash, however, that's grabbing headlines. By 2009, designers should have got to grips with CS4's major new features. "You'll see Flash pushing the envelope of what's possible on the web," claims developer Aral Balkan. "Expect sites, applications and games to combine 3D, Alpha-channel video and real-time interactivity to craft seamlessly rich experiences, the likes of which have never been seen online."

For Digital Outlook's Eugene Reisch, it's the animation tools, including rudimentary inverse kinematics, that inspire. "I'm hoping the quality of Flash animation will leap forward as people discover how achievable it is to create realistic animations they once shied away from," he says. He also hopes 3D will improve online as designers who previously avoided it discover it's a viable creative and interactive option.

Video, too, should shine in 2009. Tom Dougherty believes HD content will get greater use through the likes of YouTube and iPlayer, leading to a shift from the standard 4:3 video placement in web pages. "The introduction of 16:9 HD video will enable designers to create web pages where video has greater presence and becomes the main focal point of the page," he predicts.

For those less enamoured by Adobe's powerhouse, though, it's JavaScript that'll rule the roost. Designer Danny McClelland goes as far as claiming, "Flash won't be used any more than it currently is." Instead he cites the likes of MooTools and jQuery as key elements for the majority of 2009's websites.

McClelland isn't alone. Dougherty argues JavaScript's resurgence is a development of the web industry's desire to use the right technology for the right reason: "For a while there was reliance on Flash for anything requiring motion, transitions and video, but solid, reliable JavaScript/ Ajax solutions will increasingly provide suitable alternatives." For example, these technologies will increasingly be used for customisable interfaces (such as existing examples on eBay and the BBC), enabling users to access what they want without searching irrelevant content.

With a huge battle in full swing between the browser manufactures regarding JavaScript rendering speeds, hinting at the direction browsers will take over the coming year, the possibilities for using JavaScript to create interactive, rich, feature-packed sites in 2009 will be greater than ever.

"You can already add in-browser capabilities like graphing and vector drawing using JavaScript and Canvas, and 3D efforts are being made," says consultant Eric Meyer. "Years ago, we heard the web browser would become a 'web operating system'. That's now actually becoming possible, and JavaScript is the key to it."