Tuesday, March 30, 2010

How HTML 5 Will Change the Web and Why It Matters

Much of the coverage of the Apple (AAPL) iPad has been on its lack of support for Adobe (ADBE) Flash. Steve Jobs thinks that Flash sucks. Adobe counters that many sites use Flash, particularly for video, and that Apple is giving their iPad customers an enfeebled web experience. Don’t get taken in by the technical chest-beating. This fight is about money and who will control delivery of video over the Internet — a business that’s likely to become a huge portion of the entertainment industry.
You’ve run across HTML whether you realize it or not, because it is the basic language of web design. HTML 5 is supposed to be the next version of the web language standard. It promises to do everything that Flash does, from delivering video and enabling slick user interfaces to providing a platform to develop small downloadable applications, without the need to download and install a browser plug-in. That should mean fewer complications on end users’ systems and and less need for web site owners to invest in proprietary tools.
However welcome these goals may sound to most of us, life on the web will continue to be complicated for years for a few reasons:
  • HTML 5 is far from being a stable and established platform. Getting it to a predictable commercial state — which means having the leading browsers support it sufficiently — will take a long time. Until HTML 5 is ready, many web sites can’t and won’t dump Flash.
  • Flash is so widely established that even if the sites using it wanted to transition to HTML 5, it would take them significant and long efforts.
  • Leading browsers must support HTML 5 before sites can depend on the technology. Just look at YouTube, which currently delivers video through Flash. Even though parent company Google has set up an experimental HTML 5 interface for “most” YouTube videos, that’s only for people using Apple’s Safari browser, Google’s Chrome, or Microsoft Internet Explore with Chrome framework installed. The vast majority of users still need Flash for their browsers to work, and there is no HTML 5 backward compatibility for older browsers still in use.
  • Many web sites use Flash to create super behavioral marketing cookies that users can’t easily remove. They make money off the information they gather and won’t want to give it up.
In other words, don’t plan on uninstalling Flash plug-ins or tools for some time to come. But big change is coming, and it will have a big impact on how we experience the web.

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