Coming to a Browser Near You: HTML5

As website operators and observers of the business landscape Mercury New Media clients are typically inundated with the latest news in Internet technologies and trends. Of late that means plentiful articles, blogs and TV segments on the coming explosion in social media, mobile applications and cloud computing. While all of those topics will certainly alter the Internet technology and business landscapes they definitely enjoy a high profile.

At the same time there are several technologies and trends that will play equally important roles in your future Internet presence which have yet to receive nearly the same amount of coverage. This article covers one of those unsung technology heroes: HTML5.

HTML5 is actually in fairly broad use right now (you may even be reading this piece with an HTML5-capable browser), will become ubiquitous within a year and will make rich media-oriented/application-centric websites less expensive to build and maintain. In doing so HTML5 will bring drastic changes in the use of Flash and define the future of the mobile Web.

What Is HTML Again?

HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language and is the language used to build web pages; every web page you view is made up of HTML. The current standard version of HTML is HTML version 4 (or HTML4) and became officially adopted in December 1997. Programs like Dreamweaver are native HTML authoring programs and most current word processors, presentation applications and related software provide the ability to export documents in HTML format for web publishing.

Web Pages Haven’t Changed In Over 10 Years?

Obviously web pages look and work much differently than they did when HTML’s last official version was released more than a decade ago. Web pages now contain multimedia elements, extensive interactivity and collaboration capabilities. Since the HTML language itself has not evolved since December 1997 this improved experience and increased richness is due mainly to the advent of browser “plugins” such as Flash.

The following common browser plugins give web pages much of their modern look and operation:

  • Flash
  • JavaScript
  • AJAX
  • Acrobat Reader
  • QuickTime
  • Windows Media Player
  • ActiveX
  • Google Gears

Unfortunately, these are the same plugins that give rise to browser crashes, version conflicts and sluggish Web browsing.

What Is HTML5?

HTML5 is the long-needed upgrade of the web’s native language. HTML5 has already been partially adopted by recently released browsers and will soon be fully adopted by all next-generation browsers. HTML5 is intended to natively provide many of the capabilities provided by browser plugins while also bringing capabilities for richer media and applications than is currently possible by any third party tool or plugin. The true beauty of HTML5 is that all of these features will now be made possible with an open standard that does not depend on any single company or organization. HTML5 will make rich video experiences possible without software from Adobe (Flash), offline capabilities without a gatekeeper (Google) and robust applications that don’t require a single company’s approval (Apple).

Top HTML5 Additions

A full discussion of HTML5’s new features would delve far too deeply into technical arcana and is outside the scope of this article. However, a discussion of HTML5 would be incomplete without coverage of the most important additions for business-oriented websites.

Off-Line Capabilities
The Internet of 2010 provides a huge collection of highly compelling business applications, marketing avenues and consumer-oriented tools. The Internet of 2010 also requires users to be connected to the Internet every second they use those applications, tools and experiences. With HTML5-powered websites and applications users will be able to shop, work and browse while offline and will fulfill any transactions or update changes when their computer re-connects to the Internet.

Drag and Drop
Many websites and applications provide drag and drop capabilities in some key areas. Developing this type of experience with today’s Internet technologies can be an arduous and expensive proposition. HTML5 will make drag and drop and similar desktop behavior part and parcel of the Web experience.

Today’s websites provide extensive options and capabilities to display video and play audio clips. However, almost every one of those multimedia options are provided by proprietary third party software be it Flash, QuickTime or Windows Media Player. HTML5 provides straightforward and standards-based presentation of video and audio without installation or authoring in proprietary software.

Canvas (aka “Flash Killer”)
The use of graphics in web pages was actually an afterthought; the Web was originally intended for the transmission of flat academic and national security documents. The use of GIFs and JPEGs were added in later versions of HTML so that diagrams could be included in university papers and dissertations. This native weakness in HTML provided a healthy opportunity for animation technologies such as Flash to flourish. HTML5 introduces the “Canvas” technology as a framework for high fidelity graphics, animations and interactivity in the browser.

Geolocation refers to the browser’s coming ability to know the geographic location of the website/app user. You may be accustomed to similar capability with your smart phone to display your current location on a map or locate a nearby restaurant. With HTML5 any website or application can seamlessly make use of geolocation to provide similarly useful applications.

Why Should You Care?

As the operator of a serious Internet presence HTML5 will provide an extensive set of abilities that are currently impossible or expensive and will present faithfully across all devices (PCs, slates, smart phones, etc.). Your website will also provide more reliable browsing and your user’s browser will be much more stable. Your online services and applications can become available offline, will be in context to your user’s location and will be faster and easier to update. On top of those functional improvements these advanced features will be less expensive to develop than they are today.

When Is It Coming?

HTML5 is actually here now: many browsers support HTML5 elements and software tools have already been released to market to streamline HTML5 development. Various standards bodies are in the process of reaching agreement on final technical details such as video encoding; after ratification the HTML5 specification will be finalized and fully support in browsers. You can expect broad adoption of the full range of HTML5 by early 2011 with many sites and apps such as Google Apps having features that will work only in HTML5.

What We Recommend

Mercury New Media recommends their customers begin considering the promise of HTML5 this summer. Not all features of HTML5 will apply to your organization but with some careful consideration and joint strategic planning with Mercury New Media many aspects of HTML5 are likely to be identified that will benefit your Internet presence.

After this initial strategic planning Mercury recommends their clients to hold off on HTML5 projects until the fall of 2010 and begin slating deployments for early 2011. By early 2011 the HTML5 standard will be finalized and almost all browsers will support all aspects of HTML5.

Learn More

To learn more about HTML5 or to discuss how to take advantage of HTML5 for your organization, contact your Mercury New Media Relationship Manager.

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