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20 December 2012, 13:03

Microsoft offers a Pointer Events patch for WebKit

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WebKit logo Microsoft has offered a patch for the WebKit browser which implements the as yet to be standardised Pointer Events specification. Although the patch is described as an early prototype and requiring work, its submission has brought to the fore friction over standards for touch and browsers. The WebKit browser engine has been widely adopted since Apple developed it from original kHTML code for its Safari browser on Mac OS X, iPhone and iPad, and currently uses a model where mouse and touch events are handled separately.

One area of contention for web standards is how browsers should handle pen, mouse and touch events. A previous attempt to standardise this, Touch Events, was modelled on Apple's own Touch Events and reached the level of candidate recommendation before running into patent issues when Apple disclosed patents. W3C policy asks companies to disclose when they believe a specification infringes patents that are not available on a royalty free basis as the W3C requires. Although the patent advisory group formed to look into the issue advised continuing, the specification stalled.

In September, Microsoft submitted its own specification, Pointer Events, which addressed the same issue. Microsoft's specification synthesises all three classes of events into one pointer event, where pointer events are hardware agnostic. The W3C brought together a Pointer Events working group in November to work on the specification.

That specification has now reached the point of a first editor's draft and developers at Google have shown interest in seeing it implemented in WebKit. But other developers feel that the merging of three different event types is unnecessary and over-complicates event processing compared to Apple's current separate "Mouse and Touch" model. Others suggest Apple's non-participation in the Pointer Events working group and previous patent disclosures are more likely the reason for not looking at implementing Pointer Events.

Currently, IE10 implements the Pointer Events specification, but with a large number of mobile devices using WebKit, much touch-friendly content only uses Touch Events. It appears that Microsoft believes the best way to move Pointer Events forward is by implementing them for WebKit itself, and hence the new patch, produced by its Microsoft Open Technologies subsidiary. The initial reaction to the patch has been cautious and the submitter has pointed out that the code submission is for review and feedback rather than integration.


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