Enterprise Software

Cheat Sheet: HTML5

Serious rival to Adobe Flash? Or just a flash in the pan?

HTML5, is that the latest geek speak? I only just learnt what LMAO means...
No, HTML5 is a new specification for HyperText Markup Language, the software code that is used to create web pages.

It's a new set of standards that will make it easier for web browsers to run video and online apps.

I can do all of that today, why does this matter?
Today most web pages are written in a software language that means web browsers are unable to natively support streaming video or web applications, such as Google Maps or Gmail.

A common way around this is for browsers to use software plug-ins, a piece of software that runs within the browser that can play back streaming video or audio, or support interactive web apps. The most well-known examples are Adobe's Flash plug-in, used on YouTube to stream video, and Microsoft's Silverlight.

HTML5 takes away the need for a web browser to use proprietary software plug-ins by adding tags that allows browsers to natively support the playback of streaming video or audio, or advanced features for web apps, such as allowing them to run offline.

Other features supported by HTML5 include Web Sockets to push updates to a browser, Web Workers to let web apps perform multiple tasks at once and support for better interactive 2D graphics.

Examples of the type of apps that HTML5 will allow to be run natively through the browser include online purchasing systems, searching systems, games, public telephone or address books, communications software and document-editing software.

How widely supported is it?
Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Opera and Apple's Safari browser support the draft HTML5 specification but there is no native support for it in the most commonly used web browser, Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

Most websites do not make use of HTML5 at present as the specification for HTML5, the agreed definitions for the new tags, is only at the draft stage. This means developers are wary about creating sites based on a specification that is subject to change, although some tags, such as those to support streaming video or audio, are relatively fixed.

One of HTML5's biggest supporters to date has been Google, which offers the ability to stream videos using HTML5 on YouTube. The search giant recently announced it would ditch its own Google Gears software, which allowed its web apps to be accessed offline, in favour of using HTML5 instead.

Google Gears

Google has said it will drop its Google Gears software in future and use HTML5 instead
(Screenshot: Google)

What are the advantages?
At present the draft specification for HTML5 is unable to offer any new features to web apps that couldn't be achieved using a Flash or Silverlight plug-in.

One advantage that is being reported is a boost to performance when streaming video, some people using YouTube's HTML5 video streaming say that it's far less taxing on their computer's processor, allowing video to be streamed on less powerful machines.

Where is it going to make the biggest impact?
HTML5 is expected to make the biggest difference to mobile phones...

About Nick Heath

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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