Dhwanit

Posted: Apr 26, 2010
By: Dhwanit | 0 comments
Category: Design

HTML, HTML 5, Mobile Internet, Rich media

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HTML 5: The future of rich-media web

In the ever-changing world of the web, its surprising to see how long HTML 4.x has held on to its top spot as the language of choice for developing websites. If "4.x" drew a blank look, here's a (very) brief history of the web:

HTML, or Hyper-Text Markup Language was invented in 1992 by British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, followed by a flurry of activity on improving the fledgling language under the aegis of the IETF and W3C - both international, nonprofit organizations tasked with developing HTML and the world-wide web. In 1995, specifications for HTML version 2.0 were published and January 1997 saw version 3.2 of HTML being released. By 1998, HTML version 4.0 (HTML 4.0) was out and 1999 was the birth year of HTML 4.01 with minor updates, both collectively referred to as HTML 4.x.

This period also saw the browser wars being fought out (Internet Explorer vs. Netscape Navigator) which played a major role in fueling HTML's rapid development. By 2000, Internet Explorer, bundled free as part of the Windows Operating System had won the browser wars by driving Netscape out of business and claiming 90%+ share of browser users!

After this, everything seemed to freeze in Internet technology development, following the massive Internet bubble burst through 2000-01.

Seeds of HTML 5

HTML 5

It wasn't until 2004 when a WHATWG, a working group under W3C, started working on an update to HTML 4.01, which by now had been published as ISO/IEC 15445:2000 standard. Originally titled Web Applications 1.0, the updated specification was published by the W3C in January 2008 as a working draft, with a new name: HTML 5. As of April 2010, this update has not been published as a W3C recommendation, meaning wide-spread adoption is still some time away.

So, why are we talking of HTML 5 when a world standards body has not recommended it for general use?

Enter Browser Wars 2.0

The scenario looks very similar to the browser wars of the late '90s. Let's call it Browser Wars 1.0. Back then, when the standards body was methodically working on the HTML language, the two dominant browsers - Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer added all sorts of silly markup tags like <blink> and <marquee> to their implementation of HTML, in a death fight for who gets to keep the biggest pie of Internet users. Browser Wars 1.0 was fought outside of the W3C recommendations.

This time around, Browser Wars 2.0 includes the W3C. Although HTML 5 has been published only as a working draft, browsers such as Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox and Opera have already started implementing HTML 5 support. Chrome and Safari with the widest coverage of HTML 5 features comes as no surprise. The two biggest proponents of HTML 5 are Google and Apple. The current editor of HTML 5 is Ian Hickson, a Google employee; Apple's rendering engine software: WebKit forms the basis of both Google Chrome and Apple Safari browsers. How's that for collaboration?

Microsoft is a bit late, but nevertheless, is also leaning towards partial HTML 5 implementation in their upcoming Internet Explorer 9.0 browser. From over 90% share of the browser market when it won Browser Wars 1.0, Internet Explorer has steadily dropped to just 65% as of early 2010. This drop has been Microsoft's wake up call to enter Browser Wars 2.0 :-)

Unlike Browser Wars 1.0, which was a skewed fight between a small start-up and the giant Microsoft, Browser Wars 2.0 promises to be an equal fight centered around three big players: Google, Apple and Microsoft.

Why HTML 5?

One of the biggest evolutions to the language in version 5.0 is native support of rich media such as video and audio.

HTML is a markup language that has a lot of tags that tells a browser how to render a particular component in a web page. HTML 4.01, the current web standard since 2000, has no means of defining rich media components. This is where Macromedia (acquired by Adobe) Flash stepped up to the plate. Steadily through 2000, as broadband proliferation exploded throughout the world, web sites became more and more media rich, incorporating video and audio into web pages with the help of Adobe Flash.

However, Adobe Flash is a proprietary platform and the W3C, a world standards body had to find an open alternative to it. This is where HTML 5 adds new tags to the language that allows web developers to embed video and audio using open web standards. Tags like <video> <audio> and <source> are new in HTML 5; browser support for which already exists in the likes of Firefox, Safari and Opera.

Large websites like YouTube already use HTML 5. Browsers on extremely popular Internet devices such as the iPhone and iPad that lack Flash displaying capabilities, support rich media HTML 5 tags natively.

Summary

In my opinion, the verdict on HTML 5 is still some time away for most web users. But with very strong proponents like Google and Apple behind the scenes propelling its development, combined with the exponential growth of low computing-power mobile Internet devices that cannot handle Flash's processing & memory hungry requirements, rich media websites developed using HTML 5 does look like the direction of the future.

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