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HTML 5 steps up

Earlier this month, the Microsoft engineers overseeing Internet Explorer offered their feedback on the latest draft of the proposed version 5 of the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML 5). For many, Microsoft's interest was a sign that the spec is finally gaining some much-needed momentum.

The "IE team is reviewing the current editor's draft of the HTML 5 spec and gathering our thoughts. We want to share our feedback and discuss this in the working group," wrote Microsoft engineer Adrian Bateman, in an e-mail to the working group list.

One might assume that the industry would move uniformly toward HTML 5, given that the entire Web was built from HTML. This doesn't seem to be entirely the case, however.

The creation of the HTML 5 standard has been a long time in coming. Because of this long lapse since the finalization of HTML 4, ratified in 1997, the World Wide Web Consortium has been criticized for letting the Internet world jumping ahead of the HTML standards.

At the XML 2007 Conference in Boston, Yahoo Architect Douglas Crockford noted that a number of single-vendor offerings have sprung up in the wake of lack of standards for offering rich Internet content. Microsoft Silverlight, Adobe Air and Sun Microsystems' JavaFX are three such offerings. As a result, if you want to post a video, you may use Flash. If you want to build a web application with a snazzy interface, you may try out Silverlight.

"We believe standardizing proven technologies is an important way to drive consistency across platforms, and consistency improves developer productivity, which leads to more innovation," said Dave McAllister, Adobe's director of standards and open source, in an e-mail interview. Adobe engineers do contribute to the HTML 5 work and Adobe offers up its ActionScript, the component driving Flash, as open source.

That said, however, McAllister also notes the hurdles that HTML 5 faces. "The browser market remains highly fragmented, and incompatibilities between browsers reign," he said. "The HTML 5 timeline states that it will be at least a decade before the evolving HTML 5 efforts are finalized, and it remains to be seen what parts will be implemented consistently across all browsers."

Until all these issues are worked out, McAllister reminds us, a lot of rich Internet functionality can already be enjoyed by using the company's Flash player and Flex framework. "With 98 percent of connected desktops using Flash Player, and nearly 80 percent of Web video being played via Flash Player, customers are demonstrating that they value and rely on Adobe's innovative and consistent Flash," McAllister said.

The promise of HTML 5 is that it can offer these features, without requiring the plug-ins from any one vendor. HTML 5 will offer developers the ability to draw 2-D graphics, along with tags allowing users to edit pages and specifying conditions of client-side data storage. HTML 5 should also be able to offer video and audio without plug-ins. Google, for instance, offers a demonstration YouTube page that plays video using no plug-in. It will also offer abilities for building out more advanced data-intensive Web.

Getting all these new features in order, however, means the final ratification may not happen for another decade, some are predicting. And developers have recognized the opportunity in the standard's slow development to jump ahead with their own solutions. So, can the HTML 5 make up the lost ground? Or have we already lost the common Web for all but the most basic tasks?

Posted by Joab Jackson on Aug 20, 2009 at 9:39 AM


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