There’s been so much hype lately about HTML5 and how it’s the future of web technology standards. You can’t go to any major web browser’s website without being told about how awesome their HTML5 support is (Apple SafariMozilla Firefox 4Microsoft IE9). I couldn’t find a similar page on Google about Chrome’s support, but we all know about Chrome Experiments. It’s like HTML5 has become a marketing tool for companies to gain an edge over their competitors. But it hasn’t even been officially released or even suggested by the W3C (the web standards governing body), so I keep on asking myself “well, what the hell is it exactly?”

Good question, me. Well, Google claims that all of their mobile web apps are built using HTML5. Awesome, so it makes links more clickable using your thumb instead of a mouse pointer? Or is it actually the programming behind the apps? I mean, Google Voice is pretty slick on the iPhone, but what exactly does html5 do that made that app possible? With some clever browser detection and mobile-targeted stylesheets, I could probably create a UI that at least looks and acts like GV.

To try to answer my question, I started doing a good amount of research. I followed along with a bunch of HTML5 tutorials and created my “very own first website using html5”. A few months ago I even joined some fellow geeks at a presentation by Imulus all about HTML5. And still, I didn’t have a better understanding of what it was. In fact, most of the cool functionality that’s often attributed to HTML5 was actually CSS3 and JavaScript trickery, not some revolutionary markup language. And I’m not the only one that was confused. Apple has a set of HTML5 demos meant to show off Safari’s support, but only 2 of the 6 demos actually use HTML5.

This morning I gained some understanding for the first time. I started watching Lynda’s first look at HTML5 (alternately) video series, and it finally shed some light on the subject that’s confused me for so long.

Basically, what it breaks down to is that I was correct. Many of HTML5’s most touted capabilities actually have nothing to do with the language. Let me reiterate (this is a very important point): HTML5 has little or nothing to do with all the awesome “HTML5” websites out there. The term itself has become a brand, or as I mentioned earlier, a marketing tool. It’s the new “it is the future” key phrase like “Web 2.0” was a few years ago, and it’s become the latest hope for the loyal Apple user/Flash hater. Anything new and cool on the web is allowed to be placed under the the HTML5 heading. It’s not a web language anymore, but a shift in how users interact with the web, and how the web interacts with you.

The most important point I think the Lynda videos made was that it’s not so important for the end user to know the difference between what HTML5 is and what it isn’t (do you care about the differences between PHP and JavaScript? They’re vastly different, but the end user doesn’t need to concern themselves with that), but it’s monumentally important for developers to understand that difference. I was doing research as a developer, but finding results intended for the end user. I thought that HTML5 was the answer to every problem I’ve ever had with cross-browser compatibilities, embedding various media types, etc., when in reality it’s just a new way to markup pages (and in reality, more than half of its official specifications are accounting for existing markup) with a few new APIs (including native video and audio support).

I’m excited about HTML5’s current support and it’s imminent official release, but I’m even more excited to figure out how to create the falsely labeled “HTML5” web apps out there. HTML5 largely leans on JavaScript to create most of its dynamic and interactive content, so this research has actually made me more excited to delve into JS than anything else. One of my biggest fears as a developer is getting left in the dust while clinging to depreciated web technologies, so there’s no way I’ll let HTML5 slip through my fingers. It is a part of the future, but it’s only one of the players. It alone can’t create the richly interactive websites of tomorrow.

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date Nov 14th 2010
author Mike
category Geek
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