Since its inception in 1990, the World Wide Web’s core language has been HTML. In view of the ever-changing requirements, in 2004, Apple, Mozilla and Opera jointly started a new venture called WHATWG. The core principles were that technologies need to be backward-compatible, that specifications and implementations need to match at the cost of changing the specification rather than the implementations, and those specifications need to be detailed enough that implementations can achieve complete interoperability without reverse-engineering each other. Since 2006, the participation of W3C in this venture has resulted in the on-going development of the 5th major revision of HTML, called HTML5.
Technically, the HTML5 specification encompasses what had previously been specified in three separate documents: HTML4, XHTML1, and DOM2 HTML. It defines a single language, HTML5, which can be written in both HTML and XML syntax. It improves the mark-up of documents compared to what was previously available. And most importantly, it attempts to rectify the fact that previously HTML was inadequate to handle Web applications. HTML5 introduces mark-up and APIs for Web applications.
HTML5 is quickly becoming a full-blown application framework. Using it as a foundation for upcoming products is the keystone for overcoming cross-platform development issues. Especially for mobile platforms, the approach till now has been to use a different language and framework for each phone platform. HTML5 changes all that by implementing “write-once, view anywhere”.
A traditional Web browser is not always what the user is at due to recent technological advances. While other user agents and content types were supported, they were given secondary priority. The cross-platform support that HTML5 enjoys brings more parity between non-browser, non-desktop-size-screen users (like screen readers and mobile phones) and traditional Web browsers.
A popular way of describing HTML5 is that it’s a Flash and Silverlight-killer. Multimedia on mobile devices is being made possible by it. This does not mean Flash and Silverlight are going extinct in a matter of few months. But it does give developers options to render similar effects without using them. As of now, Flash and Silverlight still have capabilities that HTML5 does not have, but HTML5’s new capabilitiesare increasingly narrowing down the gap.
For instance, the previous method of having to depend on Flash or Silverlight to provide a media player on the site is made redundant by the <video> and <audio> tags of HTML5. This, however, is presently theoretical, since patent issues are preventing browsers from deciding which formats to support.
One other major addition by HTML5 is the ability to store offline data for Web apps. One of the major problems faced in replacing traditional desktop apps has been that the Web-based ones are useless without an Internet connection. HTML5’s offline capabilities can be used to overcome this. This will mean being able to create files in Google Docs or draft e-mails when away from an Internet connection, which would be automatically synced the next time the user goes online.
So if you are a developer or an user, HTML5 brings you the best of the read-write-execute web and promises a much richer web experience in the coming days.