Google official reaffirms HTML5 readiness

Google engineer confirms Steve Jobs' pronouncement that HTML5 can be used for rich Web content

Despite concerns that it is far from being finished, HTML5 is ready for use, at least for most platforms and for most duties, asserted a Google developer.

"Depending on who you ask, HTML5 is already ready, or it won't be ready until 2022," said Google developer advocate Mark Pilgrim at the WWW2010 conference, being held this week in Raleigh, North Carolina. "The answer is both, depending on what your definition of 'ready' is."

[ Yesterday, Google talked up the benefits of combining HTML5 with Google APIs. ]

Of course, with Steve Jobs' directive that Web developers use HTML5 instead of Adobe Flash for rendering Web pages and RIAs (Rich Internet Applications) viewable on the iPad, the question of HTML5's readiness for duty has been an urgent one.

And not everyone is convinced of the technology's maturity.

"While it's possible that in the long run HTML5 will become an acceptable substitute for some types of RIA platforms, it's not there yet. HTML5 will have a significant impact on how Web applications are built -- but as a complementary technology to leading RIA platforms, not a replacement," concluded Forrester analyst Jeffrey Hammond, in a report released last week.

For his presentation, Pilgrim, who is also writing a book about the next-generation markup language, reviewed HTML5's major new features, noting which browsers supported which features. He described his presentation as a follow-up to the Google 2009 I/O conference last year, in which Vic Gundotra, Google vice president of engineering, boldly proclaimed HTML5 ready for duty.

And, in a nutshell, if you include Microsoft still-in-beta Internet Explorer version 9, pretty much all the major browsers -- Safari, Chrome, Firefox, Opera -- now support HTML5, at least to varying degrees, Pilgrim said. On the mobile side, Google's Android and the iPhone support many HTML5 features as well.

Not all of HTML5 features are supported by the browsers, but many of the major features, including the new semantic tags, forms, multimedia, canvas, geolocation, and off-line Web applications, have found a home.

For instance, Canvas tag works across all the major Internet browsers except IE. It also works on the iPhone and the Android, Pilgrim said.

Canvas is a "blank slate where you can draw anything you want with JavaScript," he said. He noted that there are a number of JavaScript libraries that can help render images and even a series of successive scenes. He demonstrated a page that uses the Canvas tag that held two pictures of his dog that could be moved around and resized.

"Look! No Flash," he said, as he revealed the source code of the page.

On the multimedia front, HTML5 supports both audio and video. The designer can use a built-in browser control panel or build a customized one from scratch. Like the other HTML5 features, the built-in multimedia tags are declarative tags, meaning the designer can specify what features, such as autoplay or default controls, to include with a single declaration. If these choices were to be implemented in script, "they'd be harder to control," Pilgrim said.

Pilgrim admitted that there is a dispute going on among all the browser makers over which HTML5-ready video codec to support. Safari only supports the H.264 format, while Firefox and Opera only supports Ogg Theora. Chrome will support both. On Friday, Microsoft announced, via blog post, that it would support H.264 "alone," implying that the browser would not support Ogg Theora.

"If you're willing to encode twice, video will pretty much work everywhere," Pilgrim said.

With geolocation, users can offer information about their whereabouts to a Web sites. Thus far, Google is using it for iPhone and Android's mobile search feature. Twitter uses this feature as well.

With off-line Web applications, a site can download data to a user's browsers so that data and functionality will be available even if the user is off-line. "This works today," Pilgrim noted, pointing to how Google uses the technology for iPhone's Gmail application, which allows users to access their email while unconnected to the Internet.

In summary, Pilgrim said that Web developers should start familiarizing themselves with the new capabilities within HTML5, as it considerably changes the definition of what constitutes the markup language. "After awhile HTML5, will just be [referred to as] HTML," he said.

"HTML is getting better, and that's big news," he said.

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