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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HTML5 hard truth No. 7: Web Workers offer no prioritization

Web Workers are among the more intriguing additions to HTML5. Rather than depend on copious JavaScript wait, delay, and pause commands, Web developers can now split apart their code and segregate the CPU hogs into Web Workers. In other words, HTML5 Web Workers make the browser operate more like an OS.

Alas, they do not duplicate all of the features of the OS. While they do provide a way to fork the workload and separate it, there is no way to manage the workload effectively or set priorities. The API just allows messages to be passed into and out of Worker objects. That's all -- the browser handles the rest.

Will CPU-rich applications like code crackers sneak their way into the background running on popular websites? Will people begin luring users to cycle-stealing websites? Malware already piggybacks with useful software, so it's likely just a matter of time before this functionality is exploited. There is little users can do about it because they have no way to watch for the creation of Worker objects or track what they do. Their computer will just get slower after navigating to the targeted Web page.

HTML5 hard truth No. 8: Format incompatibilities abound

HTML5 heralds the introduction of <audio> and <video> tags, which at first blush look as easy to use as image tags. Just plop in a URL, and the browser streams the data. Yet, if it's so easy, why have I wasted two weeks trying to get basic audio files to play in all of the major browsers?

It's not really the HTML5 committee's fault that individual browser builders decided to implement some but not all of the various audio and video formats out there. People are human, and humans fight for dominance. But the developers have to deal with the fallout when a file that works perfectly well on one browser fails to do anything on another. How does one test for this? API developers were smart enough to include the function canPlayType, but even that function is not supported by all browsers.

HTML5 hard truth No. 9: Implementations are browser-dependent

The idyllic vision of HTML5 is one thing; the grungy reality of its implementations is another. True, programmers are trying their hardest to build the architects' dreams, but some of the tags and objects don't work correctly.

For instance, there are many things to like about HTML5's geolocation API. It offers some protection for privacy and a bit of control over its precision. If only it worked consistently -- one browser always times out, even though it should be smart enough to know that the desktop doesn't have a GPS chip.

Ultimately, this is more of a complaint about how browsers fail to implement the feature consistently, as opposed to being one aimed at the structure of the API itself. This hard truth highlights the browser-dependent challenges that Web developers face in making the HTML5-based Web app nirvana a reality.

HTML5 hard truth No. 10: Hardware idiosyncracies bring new challenges

It also seems unfair to complain about how some browser builders are going above and beyond the call of duty to provide much better performance, but no good deed goes unpunished. As the new Ferrari owner finds out after wrapping their car around a light pole, sometimes extra power isn't always a blessing.

Microsoft has done a great job of increasing the Canvas object performance of its IE browser by integrating it with low-level hardware drivers. The company has even commissioned neat games like pirateslovedaisies.com to show off the power.

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