Apple's HTML5 promotion may backfire

Apple's latest attempt to show off the HTML5 features of its newest Safari browser does more harm than good

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Blizzard's criticisms of Apple come not long after Firefox project co-founder Blake Ross publicly worried whether Firefox was falling behind in the new Browser Wars. "I think the Mozilla organization has gradually reverted back to its old ways of being too timid, passive, and consensus-driven to release breakthrough products quickly," he wrote.

That's an accusation that could once have been leveled at Microsoft, whose standards-challenged Internet Explorer 6 has been a thorn in Web developers' sides for years now. But even Microsoft seems to have woken up to the idea that it can no longer rest on its laurels in the browser market.

What's more, not everyone at Mozilla thinks directing users to specific browsers is necessarily a bad thing. When Google released its Chrome Frame plug-in for Internet Explorer, many at Mozilla warned that the plug-in disrupted the browser's delicate security model. "It would be better for the Web if developers who want to use the Chrome Frame snippet simply told users that their site worked better in Chrome and instructed them on how to install it," wrote Mike Shaver, Mozilla's vice president of engineering. In other words, Google and Chrome fans should have done more or less what Apple is doing on its HTML5 demo site now.

Don't jump the gun
It's not surprising to see browser vendors move aggressively to support HTML5, CSS3, and other up-and-coming Web standards. After all, these same companies have been the driving force behind the creation of those standards. Some voices, such as Facebook's Joe Hewitt, even argue that the adoption rate of new browser technologies is still too slow. "Browser makers need to go nuts with non-standard APIs and let the W3C standardize later," Hewitt wrote on Twitter in April. "Waiting for the committee to innovate is suicide."

Equally deadly, however, would be for major vendors to abandon a genuine standardization effort now in the interest of self-promotion or furthering a specific company agenda. Impressive though they may be, Apple's demos should rightly be called "Safari technology demos" or something similar. Right now, they're specifically designed to shut out browsers from other vendors. Not only is that not real HTML5, it's not even in keeping with the spirit of the open Web.

Those who are too eager to see Apple or any other company steer the HTML5 effort in one direction should remember the lesson of XHTML2, HTML5's predecessor at the W3C. That effort stagnated when the committee members couldn't reach consensus and has since been abandoned. XHTML2 stands as a cautionary tale that no matter how badly new Web standards may be needed, they are not inevitable. Standardization is an arduous process, but a critical one for the future of the Web. Apple and other Web vendors should stay the course -- and play nice. It would be a shame if, after all the hype surrounding HTML5, the real winners in this race were Flash and Silverlight.

This article, "Apple's HTML5 promotion may backfire," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Neil McAllister's Fatal Exception blog and follow the latest news in software development and mobile computing at InfoWorld.com.

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