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Opinion: HTML 5: Less than it's cracked up to be

March 29, 2010 11:41 AM ET

Computerworld - The core idea behind HTML 5, the latest proposed version of the Web's foundation markup language, is to make all resources, not just text and links, widely and uniformly usable across all platforms. Well, that was the theory. In practice, things aren't going to change that much from today's Web, with its reliance on proprietary media formats and methods.

In the 20 years since HTML appeared, companies -- including Adobe with Flash, Microsoft with Silverlight and Apple with QuickTime -- have added their own proprietary media formats to the Web. In addition, other businesses -- such as Google with Gears and Oracle/Sun with JavaFX -- have created technologies for the Web that make it possible to create offline and user-side-based Web applications. This is all fine, but these proprietary formats and application platforms get in the way of the universal use vision for the Web.

The W3C's (World Wide Web Consortium) plan was to answer these proprietary approaches with HTML 5. This open standard, yet to be fully approved, takes HTML from simply describing the basics of a text-based Web to one that includes specifications for presenting animations, audio, mathematical equations, offline storage and applications, typefaces and video. In short, HTML 5 is meant to incorporate all the functionality that Web users now expect from proprietary add-ons.

As Ian Hickson, one of the editors of the HTML 5 standard, has said, "One of HTML 5's goals is to move the Web away from proprietary technologies such as Flash, Silverlight, and JavaFX." At the same time, according to Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the Web and director of the W3C, "Yes, HTML 5 is still a markup language for Web pages, but the really big shift that's happening here -- and, you could argue, what's actually driving the fancy features -- is the shift to the web becoming a client-side computing platform." As for each of the multiple elements that are now being incorporated into HTML 5, Berners-Lee continued, "We've had the pieces for a while," and bringing them together in HTML 5 "multiplies the power of each one."

Sounds great, doesn't it? But HTML 5 is years away from becoming a real standard. Indeed, Dave Story, Adobe's vice president of developer tools, has pointed out that "the HTML 5 time-line states that it will be at least a decade before the evolving HTML 5/CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) 3 efforts are finalized, and it remains to be seen what parts will be implemented consistently across all browsers. In the meantime, the Flash platform will continue to deliver a ubiquitous, consistent platform that enables ever richer, more engaging user experiences."



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