HTML 5: The New Face Of The Web

It will still be a few years (two? four?) before browsers have fully integrated the whole HTML 5 standard, but many of the new features are available today. In fact, four of the five leading browsers (Firefox, Opera, Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome) have integrated some next-gen features. Microsoft promised strong support in Internet Explorer 8, but most reviewers were underwhelmed when IE8 was released, suggesting users will have to wait for IE9. Still, with obvious commitment from all browser builders, HTML 5 is definitely on the way to becoming the new face of the Web.

You may have seen some HTML 5 features without even knowing it, especially if you download beta software and follow the browser builds closely. There are some very exciting things coming with this new, long-awaited standard (HTML 4 dates back to 1999). The Web has changed a lot since the last upgrade, and will be changing a whole lot more as users get hold of more and more HTML 5 power. A handful of potent new elements and capabilities will give you the flavor of the whole, great package:

Canvas element: Now there is a powerful yet simple way to draw freestyle graphics on Web pages with JavaScript. Simple applications can be cobbled together to make drawing areas or use the drawing capability for games. Mozilla, longtime Web developer, shows a more potent and compelling use of the Canvas element with its BeSpin. BeSpin establishes a shared environment that lets developers work on projects together, from around the world, in real time, within a unified interface that appears in a Web browser.

Video element: It will now be as easy to embed video on Web pages as images are today. The days of myriad plug-ins and incompatible audio-video codices are over. There are many demos already available, including video editing functionality on a Web site.

Geolocation API: New HTML 5 functionality makes location identification, generated by GPS, cell-tower triangulation or Wi-Fi databases, available to HTML 5 browser-based applications.

AppCache, Database: This duo makes it easy to create offline applications. Killer demos have been shown since the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco in 2009, such as offline Gmail on the Android platform, custom stickies in Safari and others.

Web workers: This is a group name for ways to use background threads for processing that would normally slow browsers way, way down. The number of uses is limitless in a world where we always need to get more done in less time. One of the most impressive new demos of this capability is video motion tracking, using JavaScript right in the browser.

Great starts in many places

Even with just a partial implementation of HTML 5, Firefox 3.5 is 10 times faster at JavaScript rendering than Firefox 2, and has support for Web workers, video, geolocation and offline storage. The Palm OS is also bringing HTML 5 to its platform, with a calendar app drawn with Canvas, bookmarks and histories stored in HTML 5 databases and so on. Developers in these areas are trying to balance the goal of standardization with the fact that some special systems or operations will require new extensions. Thankfully, the development is ongoing, and the consensus for standardization is still the stronger of the several factions.

Lots of work remains to do, but there is more and more of HTML 5 in the latest browsers. Industry observers expect HTML 5 to be ready in late 2010 or early 2011, perhaps, and polls of Web professionals by such technology publishers as Sitepoint confirm the thinking. With all the demos coming out and all of the solid implementation already done, it might be fair to say that the technology is here, waiting for the standards (and the standards committees) to catch up. Developers are exploring all the new HTML 5 features, and do not seem to be waiting around for formal marching orders. Experimentation now will lead to breakthroughs, as they always do.

What’s next?

It is rough at the beginning of these paradigm shifts, and there are many questions remaining. However, fairly robust (and early) support from four major Web browsers looks to be the beginning of critical mass. Top engineers at top firms agree that they have not seen such a level of potential transformation, and one with such velocity, for a decade. HTML 5 could be what sets the second decade of the third millennium off with a bang. If so, the fuse has already been burning for a while. It should be an interesting time ahead!

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