Don't turn your back on HTML5

Despite recent stumbles, HTML5 remains a technology of great promise, with a slew of tools to smooth the development path

Growing pains notwithstanding, developers should stick by HTML5 and recognize the past few years of hype for what it has been: unrealistic expectations.

Or at least that is what a prominent technologist relayed at this week's HTML5 Developer Conference in the face of recent HTML5 tribulations, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's negative remarks about HTML5 in explaining his company's move away from HTML5 for its iOS client.

Christian Heilmann, principal developer evangelist at Mozilla, acknowledged the disjunction between HTML5 hype and the technology's increasingly visible hard truths. "It seems to me that everybody [that] has been very close to HTML5 has the same problems right now, has the same confusion right now," Heilman said during a presentation on the "broken promises" of HTML5.  

"HTML5, when it came out, was an absolutely necessary evolution," Heilmann added, highlighting HTML5's initial goals of enabling backward compatibility, consistent parsing across all browsers, multimedia access, and richer forms. Proponents, however, started using HTML5 to impress by putting in "shiny" capabilities instead of working with it as intended, Heilmann claimed.

"Shiny demos are actually the thing that sold HTML5 to everyone out there."

HTML5 has been beset by technologists deciding to support just a single browser technology, such as WebKit, according to Heilman. "There is no one browser to rule them all," he said.

On the mobile side, HTML5 has had to contend with phone, hardware, and chip set providers calling the shots, said Heilmann. "For certain hardware providers, there's just no incentive to actually support the Web," when they make money selling applications on their own infrastructure and their native environments, he said. There is no incentive for them to make the Web view as good as the native view, he reasoned.

To better accommodate HTML5, Heilmann cited projects that leverage the Web and HTML5, including Firefox OS.

"The whole OS, everything except for hardware drivers, of course, is HTML5, JavaScript, and CSS," Heilmann said. "There's nothing else that we need to learn." Mozilla is using the OS on affordable phones to be distributed in markets that cannot afford smartphones.

He also called for a "knowledge merger," citing Adobe's tools enabling Flash developers to build in HTML5 as an example. Conversion of existing programs to HTML5, instead of requiring rewrites, is also critical for HTML5 success, Heilmann said. He cited CreateJS, which features a suite of JavaScript tools for building HTML5 experiences, as a worthy project.

There will always be benefits to linking directly to a platform via native coding; developers can access functionality that might otherwise be difficult to leverage via a standards-based mechanism like HTML5. Still, HTML5, with its standardized way to build modern, rich Internet applications for multiple platforms, is going to proliferate. It just makes it easier overall for developers to get their apps on the market instead of having to code for each and every mobile platform.

In short, stay the course, HTML5 developers. Stumbles should be expected, but the upside of HTML5 will ultimately prove worthwhile.

This story, "Don't turn your back on HTML5 ," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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