How HTML5 will change the Web

HTML5 will spawn richer, more sophisticated Websites while also easing development. Here are nine ways the impact of HTML5 will be felt

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HTML5 will reduce the importance of plug-ins

Once upon a time the Web world liked the idea of a browser plug-in or add-on because it encouraged creativity and experimentation. Sounds, moving pictures, and other neat tricks appeared on the Web first through plug-ins built by Sun, Adobe, RealAudio, Microsoft, and many others. The plug-in interface was open to all, and everyone experimented with adding new features to the old, text-based world.

The battle over Flash may be the most famous skirmish, but the newer expanded powers of HTML5 also threaten other coding silos. JavaFX may be wonderful, but who wants to learn another syntax when JavaScript and the Canvas object will do the job? Who needs the Real ecosystem when the video tag will synchronize audio and video? Plug-ins like these are destined to be forgotten.

Will the idea of a plug-in disappear or fall into disfavor? Perhaps, but it depends on what you want to do. If drawing images is your goal, then the Canvas object may be powerful enough. But if you want to build specialized 3-D worlds like the ones found in the more sophisticated Flash and Shockwave games, you may be pining for the old days when a plug-in could get direct access to the video hardware or run a 3-D game world.

HTML5 will enable more interactive graphics

The old Web loaded images by downloading a GIF or a JPG file. The new Web can build an image on the fly in a Canvas object. A number of good graphing libraries have appeared, and all of them make a Website’s graphics much more interactive.

Now the JavaScript layer can compute values and draw pictures with the data. Everything can become more alive and much less textual—if the developer has the time and talent to create the solutions. Adobe is just beginning to make it simpler to develop sophisticated graphics for HTML5. The emergence of such tools will unlock additional capabilities, and the sophistication of the graphics will only improve as the tools mature.

There is a legitimate danger that all of this sophistication will overwhelm the poor client-side processors. In the past, some developers deliberately disabled the Flash plug-in to avoid the headaches and overhead of rendering heavy Flash content. That won’t be an option in the future. Everyone who’s been complaining about Flash may learn that the troubles had little to do with the technology itself—the problems came from the designers battling for our attention.

HTML5 will allow applications to tap local file storage

Web programmers have always been able to store a surprisingly large amount of information in cookies (300 cookies of up to 4,096 bytes in IE), but to do real work you need more room. The early versions from the Dojo toolkit used the Flash plug-in to commandeer a section of the hard disk, but now the tools can simply use HTML5.

This storage can be used for anything the programmer wants, including undermining the entire cloud paradigm by storing data locally on the hard disk. This makes it possible to deliver and install applications that behave just like classic applications. Applications load their JavaScript code from the HTML5 offline application cache and start right up whether or not the Web connection is working.

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