HTML5 in the browser: Canvas, video, audio, and graphics

Where Chrome, Firefox, IE, Opera, and Safari stand on HTML5 Canvas, HTML5 video, SVG, and WebGL

The five characters HTML5 are now an established buzzword, found everywhere on the Web and often given top billing in slides, feature lists, and other places where terms du jour congregate. Nonprogrammers who must either manage or work with programmers are even beginning to pick up the term. Just two days ago, someone who can't manage a TV remote explained that he was sure his company's Web presence would be much better because they were using HTML5.

The five characters are in reality just the name of a document that isn't even finished. The W3C, whose job it is to build standard-setting descriptions of Web technology, has been contemplating the fifth version of the HTML standard for almost seven years. The latest HTML5 draft may finally become official in 2022, at least according to Ian Hickson, one of the authors who works for Google.

[ HTML5 will spawn richer, more sophisticated websites while also easing development. See InfoWorld's "How HTML5 will change the Web" and "How to use HTML5 on your website today." ]

That is clearly too far in the future for many bosses and potential clients, who've put the HTML5 buzzword on their checklist. The good news is that most modern browsers have implemented a solid collection of the features, and it's quite possible to put HTML5 to work on your site for users are equipped with the latest browsers.

The biggest questions center on the newest technologies entering the standard. Many of these have been around for several years in various forms in various browsers, but now that the standard is coalescing, the major browsers are all lining up in support.

The new features can roughly be split into four major areas:

  • Flashy new presentation tools. The pun is intended, as the new layers will make it easier for designers to create slicker graphical extravaganzas with a collection of tags. The <video> and <canvas> tags go a long way to replacing Adobe's Flash.
  • Data layer. Web pages once required a connection to the Web. The new tools for handling data are turning Web pages from display mechanisms for distant servers into stand-alone software applications that store data without a Web connection.
  • Other tidbits. A surprisingly large number of little ideas are bunching under the umbrella of HTML5, even if they're not in the official specification. New tools for using geolocation information and better organizing the presentation of data are all included.
  • Little fixes to old approaches. The browsers have never handled every detail in uniform ways. The HTML5 standard cleans up some of the differences.

This article is the first of a series exploring how the browsers and developers are working toward HTML5, beginning with the new opportunities in the presentation layer.

HTML5 Canvas

HTML5 video and audio

Scalable Vector Graphics

WebGL: 3D Canvas

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