Winston Lawrence

Project Manager & Occasional developer

HTML5 giving birth by committee

HTML5 is (almost) here and the warring camps are lined up for battle. Google, possibly one of the first players out of the gate with its Google Wave application service has been demonstrating some of the improved HTML5 features in Wave like dragging and dropping of photos.  The photo effect did require a helper application, Google gears, because the HTML5 support is not quite ready yet.

Next we have the iPad, where Steve Jobs is pushing an Apple 'standards' based HTML5 approach over Flash which he won't support on anything outside of Macs.  Unfortunately, in the real world, HTML5 has not yet specified a codec standard for the HTML5 video support and while Jobs and Microsoft (strange days indeed) are backing H.264, Google and Mozilla are into OGG Theora, while Adobe and lots of satisfied users of course want flash/SWF to remain as an option (Nasa blog: Whywe went with Flash) and there are probably another half - dozen video codec standard contenders out there .

This kind of "survival of the fittest" technology contest happens time and time again. XHTML, an XML variant was slated at one point to become the next HTML version. The attempt to bring XML style structure to HTML was both well-intentioned and strongly positioned to become HTML version 5.  XHTML  just failed to gain widespread support by the mainstream browsers or by anyone outside of the development and standards communities. XML itself, introduced as a means to simplify the complex SGML markup standard has itself, ironically, become far more convoluted and and complex than SGML ever was.

So, for a brief moment, HTML5 does have a very promising future. It can, as Google Wave has shown, break the barriers between the traditional desktop based application, web application and mobile computing - a process which, has been underway for maybe 10 years now.

I really hope that HTML5 doesn't end up institutionalized like XML or balkanized by warring factions like Apple and Adobe because HTML5 has been in labor for about five years with no birth, which is kind of what happens when delivery is by committee.

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Winston Lawrence

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