HTML5, the next version of the markup language used to build Web pages, has attracted attention for its ability to show video inside a Web browser without using plug-ins, such as Adobe’s Flash. But lesser-known features could ultimately have a much bigger impact on how users experience the Web.
Experts say that what HTML5 does behind the scenes–such as its network communications and browser storage features–could make pages load faster (particularly on sluggish mobile devices), make Web applications work more smoothly, and even enable browsers to read older Web pages more easily.
Bruce Lawson, who evangelizes about open Web standards at Opera Software, says that to make websites perform functions the Web wasn’t originally designed for, developers must perform complex coding tasks that can easily introduce errors and make applications fail.
The group working on HTML5, Lawson says, was given the tall order of making the specification more forgiving than its predecessors so that older or improperly coded websites will work better in HTML5-enabled browsers. They also wanted to extend the specification forward to support modern trends such as rich Internet applications. “The basis of HTML5 is relentlessly pragmatic,” he says. “It’s designed to reflect what people are actually doing.”
Experts point to a feature called Web Sockets as an example of the improvements that HTML5 can offer. Web Sockets provide a website with an application programming interface (API) that opens an ongoing connection between a page and a server, so that information can pass between them in real-time. Normally, the browser has to make a request every time it wants an update.
The effect of Web Sockets is something like moving from having a conversation via e-mail to having it via instant message, says Ben Galbraith, who cofounded the Web development site Ajaxian.com, and is director of developer relations at Palm. With e-mail, each message is sent as a single event, while instant messages allow for a smooth, ongoing conversation.