HTML 5 and the future of the web
What does the emerging Internet standard mean for you?
By David Chartier | Macworld.com | Published: 10:40, 14 October 2010
Because HTML5 is controlled by a large and amorphous standards body whose members have varying priorities, lack of consensus on key issues has delayed finalization of even small parts of the overall spec. Among the most important of these controversial issues is which video format(s) should be supported by default in HTML5’s new video tag.
Apple has had quite a bit of success pushing H.264 across the web. iTunes Store video is distributed in (DRM-encumbered) H.264, and other major companies, like YouTube, ABC, CNN and Fox have adopted it for their HTML5 initiatives. But portions of the H.264 technology are covered by patents, which in theory, could someday be used to force content makers to pay hefty licensing fees. Ogg is another HTML5 video format option being pushed by the open source community, but the W3C is also concerned over patent issues.
Google recently introduced a new video format, dubbed WebM, and open sourced its technology in an effort to settle the matter. But none of the key players can agree on One or Two Formats To Rule Them All yet, so their sites are stuck supporting different video formats for non-Flash, HTML5 video.
What’s it to you?
It’s still too early to tell whether HTML5 will usurp Flash or if the technologies will eventually coexist, perhaps carving out mutual niches where they excel. After all, Flash is used for more than just cute kitten clips on YouTube. It lets designers create immersive, animated website experiences and complex games that simply cannot be created with HTML5, at least not yet, and likely not for a long time.
But things can move pretty quickly in the technology arena, so who knows. Adobe could demonstrate a convincing, long term commitment to improving Flash’s performance and resource demands, or it could even open source Flash. Conversely, the W3C could finish the HTML5 spec early with an agreement on an official, non-Adobe video format or two that tips the industry scales in its favour.
But in the bigger picture, HTML5 could usher in an era of unprecedented accessibility for text, video and other media on the web. Never before have we had so many different connected devices and so much potential for sharing information and experiences across geographic, linguistic and even visual boundaries. And in the web’s short history, the key browser makers, including Microsoft, Apple and Mozilla, have never been this close to cementing the markup language in which the web speaks.
A truly standard language and media format for the web means that your friend with an iPhone, your father with a Windows PC and your nerdy tech support guy with a Linux something or other tablet can all laugh at the web pages and video clips you email without worrying about who has what plug-ins or whether the right browser is installed.
As HTML5 matures and Adobe either fixes the fundamental problems of Flash or eventually retires the technology, the result is the same: We users are the ones who win.