HTML5 Still Adds Up To A Customised Mess

Like most geeks, I'm excited by the potential of HTML5, and I'd be happy to see a truly universal standard that means web-based apps could work effectively on any device. But experience to date suggests HTML5 hasn't yet quite solved the problem of needing to tune web services and apps to work in different browsers, or of delivering apps that work when you don't have a connection.

Picture by slavik_V

Three recent experiences have led me to this conclusion. Firstly, I went to a press lunch for cloud ERP vendor NetSuite. One of the key announcements was that NetSuite had customised its products so that they "natively support Google Chromebook". This makes me sad. Not because I don't want Chromebook users to have full access to a range of apps, but because of this: the fact that making a web-based app compatible with a browser-based device is deemed newsworthy demonstrates how far we have to go in terms of real interoperability. If HTML5 had delivered on its full potential, we'd be able to take compatibility for granted.

Secondly, in Microsoft's announcement of how Bing was dropping the beta tag, it also mentioned that a new video wall feature will be appearing this week, and that customers could "download IE9" to experience it. Again, if it's HTML5, this should work anywhere. So even if it's mostly Microsoft shilling its own gear, it's indicative of a depressing trend.

And finally, once I started musing over this, I remembered how Google Docs had effectively lost its capability to work offline because of the shift to HTML5. Google dumped its own Gears technology on the grounds that HTML5 would be a better solution, but the current version is no solution at all: you can view documents but not edit them, and you have to be running Chrome to even do that. That does not a useful word processor make, and it underlines again that HTML5 hasn't yet been effectively deployed in a cross-platform way.

I'm not saying this might not get better in the future as the standards become more widely adopted. But I'm not holding my breath. After all, there are still millions of people using the crippled non-browser that is IE6. Sure, they might all be stuck behind corporate firewalls, but it reminds us that the pace of widespread change is often glacial. We need a few icebergs to shift before HTML5 really delivers.

Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.


    2 things:
    - HTML5 is not complete. As much as web developers want to use it, it is still a minefield of non-standard elements and browser specific functionality.

    - Big businesses don't care about interoperability. Why would Microsoft care that chrome can't play their video wall? Theres no incentive to make their things work on everything, Being 100% cross browser friendly means that people can leave your browser behind easier. Its great for the smaller web devs, but the big picture is that the big companies only really care for themselves, and they have no reason to make their awesome features work in something they wont gain from.

      The problem is, HTML5 will never be complete - rather than defining a standard, the W3C basically threw their collective hands in the air and said that it will now just be some rolling mish-mash of whatever browser vendors decide to implement.

      Way to go, W3C.

        On the other hand, Adobe has decided to drop it's work on Flash and focus on HTML5, which will probably mean massive progress in that field, now that flash is beginning to exit the competition.

          Not quite. Adobe has dumped mobile Flash, not desktop Flash. That certainly creates an additional incentive for developers to take up HTML5, but doesn't address fragmentation.

    At this point in time, especially with Adobe having dropped mobile Flash support, there is no alternative that makes as much sense as using HTML5 + JavaScript for web apps.

    All three of your points are referring to poor implementation of a new technology. The latter 2 points are just cases of browser manufacturers pushing their own wares. Microsoft could likely have created an appropriate graded experience for different browser capabilities, but they cut corners and simultaneously pushed IE9. Google dumped Gears knowing full well that for full offline support, users would have to use Chrome & the browser extension they've created.

    The "problem of needing to tune web services and apps to work in different browsers" is something that is never going to go away as long as older browsers are still in use. I don't know why anyone would believe that HTML5 would somehow fix this issue.

    What is your proposed alternate solution? HTML5 is certainly a lot more universal than Flash. The pragmatic approach is to use HTML5 & deliver the full experience to platforms that support it, and offer fallbacks for platforms that don't. If the alternative is building specifically targeted solutions for different platforms, I think you're going to end up in more of a 'customised mess' than you otherwise would have.

    This is a question, I don't know the facts. Is there fragmentation on mobiles? I was under the understanding that most mobiles all used Webkit, so shouldn't they all be using the same implementation of HTML5?

    Is the fragmentation mostly the fact that Mozilla and Internet Explorer aren't following Webkit which is used by Apple and Google?

    A truthful comment "Big business don't care" because 98% are profit driven and need to deliver a solution that works for them with the resources they have.

    This is leaves a gap that the open source / GNU community can fill. And with possibly more resources and better documentation.

    All technology evolves.. Did somebody say .."evolve or be left behind like the dinosaurs".

    Really where will flash be in 5 years time compared to HTML? Will flash evolve itself?

    So its almost 2012 and for as much as Steve Jobs hated Adobe Flash for what it was - all the while he wore a grin as his iPad and iPhone launched IOS version after version? go figure..

    As a reformed Web Designer I remember when interoperability meant that as long as the website worked on the CEO's computer that was all that mattered.

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