11 hard truths about HTML5

HTML5 offers Web developers powerful new features, but spec limitations may prevent it from unseating native apps

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Of course, this has always been a problem with native apps, but the difference is that the native model makes it obvious who is responsible for synchronization: humans, who manage synchronization troubles by looking at file names and change dates. But because HTML5 doesn't give users control over the databases stored deep inside their browsers, developers must provide the user interface and piping to handle synchronization. The specification doesn't offer any help.

This isn't a completely intractable mess. Programmers manage these headaches by using version control systems, which have become increasingly more sophisticated to handle such problems. Yet just having the technology doesn't mean it's an easy solution for programmers to use. Merging the various GIT repositories can take time. HTML5 developers will need to master these issues if they're going to manage the synchronization of HTML5 Web apps.

HTML5 hard truth No. 5: The cloud owes you nothing

It's not really fair to blame HTML5 for all of the structural problems with storing your data in the cloud, but the cloud is an essential part of the vision, which leverages the cloud to fix all of the headaches for installing software and backing up data.

Given the limitations of HTML5 local data storage, the bulk of Web app data storage will remain in the hands of servers, and there are moments when this approach can be devastating. Just recently Facebook decided it didn't like one Linux-based plug-in for uploading photos. With a wave of the caliph's hand, the plug-in was gone, along with all of the photos that were uploaded using it.

These stories aren't common, but they're appearing more and more often for many reasons. Are you sure that the cute Web startup promising free everything with their HTML5 app is going to be there in a few years or even a few months? You'd better be.

It gets worse. As the terms of service for many Web apps make clear, it's not your data, and in most cases, you have no legal recourse to recover the data. Some of the more outrageous service agreements insist that the data can even be deleted for "no reason at all."

Not only does HTML5 avoid fixing this issue in any way, its structure practically ensures that any of the local data cached on your browser will be stored in the cloud, out of your reach and control. The HTML5 hype says this is a feature, but it could easily turn against the model.

HTML5 hard truth No. 6: Forced upgrades aren't for everyone

One story, perhaps apocryphal, tells of a person who used a Gmail account for casual hookups with people in bars. When Google+ came along, all of the memories came flooding back, because Google+ linked those old addresses into the discussion forums. Every day, the old names and old faces are there asking to be put into discussion circles.

When the Web app companies need to upgrade, they must upgrade everyone at the same time. While this is said to relieve users of having to manage the software installation, it can be a nightmare for anyone who doesn't want the new features. This isn't just a problem for people's privacy, as in the case above. New software can often crash other packages that relied on the old features being where they were supposed to be.

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