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Sep 14, 2008

How HTML 5 Is Already Changing the Web

How HTML 5 Is Already Changing the Web

HTML 5HTML 5 represents the biggest leap forward in web standards in almost a decade. Unlike the specifications that came before it, HTML 5 is not merely intended to present content to a web browser. Its goal is to bring the web into maturity as a full-fledged application platform — a level playing field where video, sound, images, animations, and full interactivity with your computer are all standardized. And it may be a long way off still, but elements of HTML 5 are already reshaping the way we use the web.

The last update to the Hypertext Markup Language — the lingua franca of the web — was the 4.01 specification completed in September, 1999.

Quite a bit has happened since. The original browser wars ended, Netscape dissolved. The winner, Microsoft Internet Explorer 5, begat IE6, which begat the current IE7. Mozilla Firefox rose from the ashes of Netscape to take over second position. Apple and Google have released their own web browsers. The minority shareholder Opera continues to play the gadfly while pushing standards and software design forward. We even have a real web experience on our phones and game consoles, thanks to Opera, the iPhone and Google’s soon-to-be-released Android.

But all that progress threw the web standards movement into disarray. Ideas for HTML 5 and other developing standards were more or less left on the cutting room floor. As a result, HTML 5 has been in draft form ever since.

Several interested parties have banded together to form the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (simply referred to as the WHATWG), an entity charged with picking up HTML 5’s pieces. It operates separately from the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C), which oversees web standards, and it includes representatives from Mozilla, the KHTML/WebKit project, Google, Apple, Opera and Microsoft. And although the draft may not be ratified for years, work on HTML 5 continues.

So what does HTML 5 offer? Here’s a rundown of the most exciting advancements in the HTML 5 draft specification today:

  • A new, sensible tagging strategy. Instead of bundling all multimedia into object or embed tags, video goes in video tags. Audio goes in audio tags, and so on.
  • Localized databases. This feature, when implemented, automatically embeds a local SQL database websites can read and write to, speeding up interactive searching, cacheing and indexing functions, or for offline use of web apps that rely on data requests.
  • Rich animations without plug-ins. The canvas element gives the browser the ability to draw vector graphics. This means configurable, automatic graphs and illustrations right in the browser without Flash or Silverlight. Some support for canvas is already in all the latest browsers except for IE.
  • Real apps in the browser. APIs for in-browser editing, drag and drop, back button “waypoints,” and other graphical user interface abilities.
  • Content presentation tags will be phased out, and CSS will rule.

In theory, HTML 5 is a breeding ground for new ideas for web standards shared among interested developers and browser vendors. But it’s all still experimental.

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