HTML5, a groundbreaking upgrade to the prominent Web presentation specification, could become a game-changer in Web application development, one that might even make obsolete such plug-in-based rich Internet application (RIA) technologies as Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight, and Sun JavaFX.
The World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) HTML5 proposal is geared toward Web applications, something not adequately addressed in previous incarnations of HTML, the W3C acknowledges. In other words, HTML5 tackles the gap that Flash, Silverlight, and JavaFX are trying to fill.
The rich promise of HTML5
"HTML5 is really the second coming of this Web stuff -- of the Web," says Dion Almaer, co-founder of the Ajaxian Web site and co-director of developer tools at Mozilla. The specification boasts capabilities covering video and graphics on the Web, as well as a slew of APIs, Almaer notes.
HTML5 technologies such as Canvas, for 2-D drawing on a Web page, are being promoted by heavyweights in the Internet space such as Apple, Google, and Mozilla. (Although Microsoft itself has given a thumbs-up to certain aspects of HTML5, it has not backed Canvas.)
"HTML5 features like Canvas, local storage, and Web Workers let us do more in the browser than ever before," says Ben Galbraith, also co-founder of the Ajaxian Web site and co-director of developer tools at Mozilla. Local storage enables users to work in a browser when a connection drops and Web Workers makes "next generation" applications incredibly responsive by pushing long-running tasks to the background, he says.
Web applications will become more fun, says Ian Fette, project manager at Google for the Chrome browser: "They're going to be faster and they're just going to provide overall a better user experience and make the distinction between online apps and desktop apps blurred."
HTML5 features already appearing in browsers
After five years of work, a draft of the HTML5 specification was released in 2008. Parts of it are showing up in browsers, but the complete HTML5 work won't be done for years.
"For example, video support is new in HTML5 and new in Firefox 3.5," notes Vlad Vukicevic, technical lead of the Firefox project at Mozilla. Google's new Chrome browser also has some capabilities, including video tags, derived from the HTML5 specification. And Microsoft has several HTML5 features in Internet Explorer 8, such as local storage, AJAX navigation, and mutable DOM prototypes.
Opera supports Canvas and plans to add capabilities such as video to its browser, says Molly E. Holzschlag, a Web evangelist at Opera Software. Meanwhile, Apple supports HTML5 audio and video tags in its Safari browser, as well as the Canvas technology (which it invented).