Long-awaited improvements and changes are coming for all browser and Internet users. Last standardized 12 years ago, HyperText Markup Language (HTML), the core technology and language for structuring and presenting content for the World Wide Web, is finally evolving to its fifth version called HTML5. If you created or maintain your department’s internal Web site, you will be affected. If you search the Internet for replacement parts or online vendor tech support, you will be affected. In fact, HTML5 will affect all of us—whether we build or maintain Web sites or use them.
Twelve years is an amazing length of time in the IT world. Since IT time is equivalent to dog years, then 1 year real time equals 7 years IT time (Let’s call it 7IT). Therefore, we have been living with HTML4.01 for 84IT years! (See the table for other development time lines.)
HTML5 is planned to include all the intermediate improvements in common use since HTML4.01 came along in 1999 (via XHTML 1.1 and DOM 2 HTML, for example), making genuine improvements in Web site development and browsing. If you have not had a chance to dive into HTML and are interested in learning, now would be a good time to jump in.
Final release dates for HTML5 have not been clear. However, the latest date looks like May of 2014. Since there are no rules for the Internet—other than of the de facto sort—there are early versions of HTML5 that are in use now and will continue to be used until the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) claims HTML5 “fully cooked.” Also, note that the W3C says it will fall back to using “HTML” and stop using the “HTML5” designation once it has been released and becomes the de facto standard.
HTML5 is not yet an official standard, and no browsers have full HTML5 support. However, all major browsers (Safari, Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Internet Explorer) continue to add new HTML5 features to their latest versions. These are generally the features that will speed up Web page downloads and add overall sophistication behind the scenes in browser operation—mostly to remove the need for plug-in add-on apps. Since HTML5 is not all one package, but rather a collection of features, it is relatively easy for the major browsers to add support for various features in a piecemeal fashion.
It’s a Markup Language
A markup language is a hidden formatting and style indicator used by the document creator to set the way in which the document will be seen. WordPerfect users may recall “reveal codes” that showed all paragraph marks, font marks like bold/unbold, and other text formatting. There is no real way to reveal codes in MS Word 2007, other than a few formatting codes revealed by clicking on the paragraph symbol (¶) in the home menu bar under paragraph. You will see where the paragraphing codes are in your document. You will also see where the spaces are located, shown as a “middle dot” (·). To see the HTML markup coding in the IE8 Web browser:
- While viewing any Web page, click on “page” (in the top menu bar) to open the drop-down menu;
- Select “view source” at the very bottom of the list; and
- Maximize the resulting window (type +) to see all HTML coding needed to bring you this page.
You will see ASCII text surrounded by HTML commands or tags in angle brackets. For example, if you saw this: <H1>Updated Web Language Expected in 2014</H1>, it tells the browser that this is a type 1 headline. The first tag <H1> tells the browser how to display the text that follows. The second tag </H1> indicates the end of the headline text. This line of code—start tag, content, end tag—is called an element. Since it is all ASCII text, you won’t see any graphics. Rather, the tags and elements point to where an image is located in the transmitted data.
HTML5’S New Features
A few of the more interesting HTML5 new features include:
- The video and audio elements for media playback;
- New content-specific elements, like article, footer, header, nav, and section;
- The canvas element for drawing, which provides a rectangle on the Web page where you control every pixel;
- Better local offline storage—via localStorage objects (LSOs); and
- New form controls, like calendar, date, time, e-mail, URL, and search.
In addition to the new <video> tag definition, HTML5 also has an API for video objects. This API can detect support for different video formats, play a video, pause, mute audio, and track how much of the video has been downloaded, among others.
In addition, HTML5 has all the HTML4 form controls but includes new input controls as well. There are long overdue additions like sliders and date pickers. HTML5 also removes or reduces the need for proprietary plug-in-based applications and technologies like Adobe Flash and Sun JavaFX. As a matter of fact, some are saying HTML5 is the Flash killer! This could partly be because the Web site will now be able to have sophisticated transitions and animations via the new markup language. In April 2010, Apple Inc’s [now former] CEO Steve Jobs issued a public letter titled, “Thoughts on Flash.” He said that with the development of HTML5, Adobe Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of Web content.
The W3C also laid down some rules for HTML5 development:
- HTML5 should be device independent;
- It should reduce the need for external plug-ins (like Flash);
- It should include more markup to replace scripting; and
- It should create better error handling.
New features and elements, more efficient code, and new tools make HTML5 big news. Consider also new structural integrity and styling flexibility of CSS3 for good-looking Web pages with smarter content. HTML5 consolidates and formalizes existing coding methods where certain layout tags, for example, are no longer permitted in the body of a page, requiring them to be defined in a CSS style sheet—define once, use many.
HTML5 is made to make available a comprehensive app-development platform that eliminates the need to install third-party browser plug-ins such as Java and Flash. HTML5 also provides support for its own 2D graphics, document editing, drag and drop, browser history management, video playback, and local file storage.
HTML5 builds on the functionality of HTML4 due to HTML4’s popularity. All of the HTML4 stuff will work with HTML5. This means you can start improving your Web site today, even if some of your end users use IE6.
In terms of function, HTML is a pretty easy language to learn, and there are also many sources to learn from. Or, pick up any HTML5 startup manual and start developing—learn by doing. The next step would be to learn about MIME types, DOMs, CSS, and Microdata. Be sure to learn more details about LSOs and Web storage, as this sounds like a great place for a Trojan virus to hide. Get started now, like the browser big shots have done. After all, only 21IT years to HTML5 full release!
Jeff Kabachinski, MS-T, BS-ETE, MCNE, has more than 20 years of experience as an organizational development and training professional. Visit his Web site at kabachinski.vpweb.com. For more information, contact .