Your friendly neighbourhood doctors are often contacted by journalists and analysts who have questions about HTML5, usually from a consumer or business perspective. This is great, as we spend many more hours every week mutely shaking our heads while reading the ill-informed columns from journalists or analysts who haven’t contacted us.
Here are the most common questions we’re asked, with non-technical answers. Journos – you’re welcome to use these answers (a citation would be nice but isn’t required).
We’ll add new questions and answers as they are asked.
What is HTML5?
Depends what you mean. There are 3 different uses of the phrase "HTML5":
The HTML5 specification
It is a much-needed evolution of the language that web pages are written in, and is designed for writing Web applications (dynamic interactive web pages that do something). Its predecessor, HTML4, dating from the late 1990s, was written for Web Pages (static, hyperlinked documents of text, images, forms).
- It’s designed to make web pages interoperable across browsers. These days, people use multiple browsers (For example, IE at work, Safari/ Opera on their phone, Opera/ Firefox at home) and it’s stupid and annoying if a website doesn’t work everywhere.
- All the browser manufacturers – Opera, Mozilla (Firefox), Apple (Safari), Microsoft (Internet Explorer), Google (Chrome) – are working together, along with loads of other individuals and organisations: Netflix, Adobe, IBM, HP, BBC etc.
- It’s designed to extend the capabilities of the current web, without breaking existing web pages
- It competes with plugins like Microsoft Silverlight and Adobe Flash (which themselves were developed to plug the holes in fossilized HTML4 standard)
HTML5 and close friends
In addition to the core HTML5 specification, the WHATWG developed other specifications such as Web Workers, Web Sockets, Web Database. These add more features useful in applications, games and the like.
(Many of these have been part of the core spec at some point, but moved out for procedural/ organisational reasons. They are all grouped together in a specification called Web Applications 1.0).
New, Exciting Web Technologies
When most non-developers (and many less-informed developers) say “HTML5” they are referring to a whole slew of technologies: Core HTML5, its friends and others entirely unrelated technologies, such as Geolocation (the ability for your browser to “know” its location), Device Orientation, Touch Events, CSS3 animations (that can replace very simple Flash animations), SVG (a way of describing graphics that look crisp and unpixellated at any screensize) and, the new kid on the block, WebGL, a port of a popular 3D graphics library to the Web that allows 3D graphics and games in the browser.
Many of these are developed by the W3C; WebGL is developed by Khronos Group.
It’s also important to note that many so-called "HTML5" demos are nothing to do with HTML5 at all; many Google Doodles, for example, use DHTML – an HTML 4 technology from the turn of the millennium.
Why has HTML5 been invented?
HTML 4 was creaking at the seams for the new breed of applications. Some things were impossible and needed plugins like Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight; other things required elaborate hacks on undocumented features, which wasn’t a robust foundation for websites that make money for their owners.
How many HTML5-compliant browsers are there?
It depends on your definition. Because HTML5 extends HTML4, by definition all browsers have some HTML5 features.
If, on the other hand, you want to know which browsers include all Core HTML5 features, none of them do. They are all implementing pieces of the specification (which is 700+ pages long) but none implement all.
Disregarding all the hype, the modern versions of the browsers are all around the same level of implementation (although different browsers implement different features at different times, depending on the needs of their customers).
Who’s driving HTML5?
It began in Opera, in 2004, edited by Ian Hickson. Gradually all the other browser manufacturers joined. Hickson left Opera and joined Google, where he continues to edit the spec.
It’s fairest to say that browser manufacturers collaboratively drive the spec, with the W3C and many other organisations and individuals. Ultimately, it’s driven by the needs of Web developers.
Who’s using HTML5?
When will HTML5 be ready?
Perhaps 2012. Perhaps 2022. It doesn’t matter; what matters is that a lot of it is implemented in browsers now, so it can be used now.
Saying that we can’t use HTML5 because it isn’t finished is like saying we can’t speak English because it isn’t finished.
Is HTML5 incompatible with Internet Explorer?
It’s worth noting that many of the features in HTML5 (like
the Drag and Drop API) were invented by Microsoft and were included in IE5.
Is HTML5 just about mobile?
Features should be designed for universal access…Features should, when possible, work across different platforms, devices, and media.
That said, there are several features that are useful on Mobile. If you’re looking at "real" HTML5, then the ability to continue to interact with a website even when offline via Application Cache (“Appcache”) is a useful one.
The fact that you can use HTML5 <canvas> for animations on devices that, by choice or necessity, can’t use Adobe Flash can be advantageous.
In the broader "New Exciting Web Techologies" definition of HTML5, Geolocation is a huge feature.
Will HTML5 kill Adobe Flash?
No – or we hope not. For years Flash was the only way to add video to a page; now there is HTML5. This competition means both are getting better, which is great for developers.
Apple decided not to allow Flash on their iOS devices, which is what gave HTML5 video a great boost. It’s important to note that HTML5 multimedia on iOS is hardly a perfect platform:
- HTML5 video issues on the iPad and how to solve them
- Unsolved HTML5 video issues on iOS
- Audio Sprites (and fixes for iOS)
For video that uses adaptive bit-rate streaming, or Digital Rights Management (DRM), Flash remains a useful cross-browser tool.
It’s also necessary to realise that Flash does more than simply video. Some its basic functions like simple gaming have been usurped by HTML5 <canvas>, and the kind of trivial animations that it used to be used for (things spinning on hover, for example) are moved into CSS 3. However, for ease of authoring sophisticated animated content like games and cartoons, it’s much easier for authors to write in Flash as Adobe’s authoring environment has many tools (tweening, timelines) that make it easy for visual developers. This will change as companies develop pleasant authoring environments for <canvas>, but it isn’t there yet.
Will HTML5 kill mobile Apps?
There are non-technical reasons for apps, too. Operators like them very much: they can control distribution and therefore extract money from both purchasers and vendors. Whereas many people dislike the idea of a monolithic appstore and app approval process, some consumers value it. Appstores offer curation – consumers feel that the apps are vetted and therefore won’t wreck their phones, steal their identities or (shudder) expose them to Internet smut.
Apps built for one specific device can be highly integrated with the User Interface and User Experience conventions of that device. Some people see this as a compelling advantage. However, uptake of the Web doesn’t seem to have suffered because authors make one single website rather than different websites for Linux, Mac and Windows.
Any further questions?
If you have any further questions, you can ask the doctor, or analysts/ accredited journalists can ask your author for a briefing.