There is a lot of buzz about HTML5. Especially in developer circles. The reason is that HTML5 is expected to bring a wealth of possibilities for web application developers. But what does this mean for your average Joe? First of all, let’s review what HTML5 is.
HTML5 is the latest revision of the HyperText Markup Language specification. HTML is the standard that powers the web. In it’s most basic form, HTML is the markup that is interpreted by your browser of choice and displayed to you as a web page. HTML allows developers to embed a vast array of functionality from multimedia to scripting languages that provide dynamic interaction. A new version of HTML will push your browser’s capabilities beyond what they are currently. But why should you care?
A lot of the features included in the HTML5 spec are things that can be accomplished today using clever tricks or 3rd party extensions. By standardizing these features, web developers will be able to build applications that work on a wider array of platforms. Also, HTML5 will obsolete many practices that up until it’s release are stop-gap solutions at best. A couple of examples are needed, so first let’s look at file uploading.
Currently, to provide a truly rich user experience for uploading files to a web server, a developer must make use of Adobe Flash or Java. Both of these methods are really hacks, as the browser natively allows files to be uploaded, albeit with some major limitations. First of all, browser only allow the user to select a single file at a time. They don’t support drag & drop for file selection or any means of tracking the progress of the upload. All of these limitations must be overcome using Flash or Java today. However, HTML5 introduces solutions to all of these problems directly in the browser.
Another common scenario in which HTML5 will shine is application caching. Today 3rd party browser extensions such as Google Gears are needed to cache complex data inside of a browser. Such caching is required to provide so-called “offline” operation of an application. Offline operation allows a user to use a web application when disconnected from the web. The user can perform their tasks as the browser saves data locally. When reconnected, these changes are synchronized back to the server without the user’s involvement. This is a really powerful feature that will make web applications orders of magnatude more useful.
In short, HTML5 will empower web developers to empower users. HTML5 is just one more step in the journey upon which humanity has embarked. So far nobody knows the final destination, but as always, getting their is half the fun.