Understanding the HTML5 standard

Vendors are implementing HTML5 to take advantage of improved compatibility despite the fact that the standard won't be final until late 2014.

When Windows was pretty much the only enterprise operating system and Internet Explorer was the dominant browser, most Web applications and sites were developed for that platform. Now that many end users access Web apps and sites from mobile devices, HTML5 is emerging as the new cross-platform standard.

With better HTML5 standards, cross-platform development becomes easier, especially for mobile. Tools such as Intel XDK New or MoSync Reload allow developers to write applications and make them available for any mobile platform. Developers can build applications to run in a browser without having to worry about the differences between operating systems and form factors.

HTML5 was developed as the solution to compatibility problems in HTML4, which is the standard in current Web documents. HTML4 and its cousin XHTML have a mixture of features that come from different sources, but they are not implemented on all platforms. The result is that a Web page that was built and tested in one browser may not load in another browser. Many employees use two or more browsers to make sure the Web pages they need to access load properly. But now that users access many Web pages from Android and iOS mobile devices -- which Internet Explorer (IE) isn't available for -- there needs to be a new solution.

To speed the development of the HTML5 standard, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) created different groups that focus on specific features. No less than five of these groups are currently working on the standards. As of now, HTML5 is in the "Call for Review" state, and the W3C expects that it will reach its final state by the end of 2014, but most vendors aren't waiting until then to implement HTML5.

HTML5 and mobile devices

The big difference between HTML5 and previous languages is that older versions of HTML need proprietary plugins and APIs. HTML5 provides one common interface to make loading elements easier.

One of the design goals for HTML5 is support for multimedia on mobile devices. New syntactic features were introduced to support that, such as the video, audio and canvas tags. This is good news for IT administrators because they won't need to modify user platforms to display certain content types; there's no need to install a Flash plugin in HTML5 because the element will run by itself.

New features

HTML5 introduces an impressive list of new features, some of which can really change the way users interact with documents. Workers can drag and drop content from one HTML5 document to another. Users can also continue working on Web documents even when they are temporarily offline, a feature that limits the dependency on Wi-Fi. Another interesting feature is the introduction of Web SQL, a common standard for storing data in SQL databases.

Current implementations

Apple's iOS 7 has support for HTML5, and IE has supported it since version 8. More platforms are adding support as well, but as of this writing, not everything is working as smoothly as it should; the standard hasn't been finished yet and vendors have implemented features that are not in their final states.

This was first published in November 2013

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