HTML5: The new language


5 Aug 2011
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The current HTML standard 4.01 is ten years old. In this time, the Internet has become rich with multimedia and interactivity. So it’s definitely time for change!

Videos are really popular on the web, so it should come as no surprise that sites like YouTube, Dailymotion and Vimeo are among the first few sites to integrate the new HTML5 standard. HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language, the language in which the basics of the Internet are written. The standard specifies rules according to which this happens. Since Web browser engines need to be adapted to this, four of the big browser manufacturers (not including Microsoft), developed HTML5 comprising of numerous new functions that help close the long gap between being a document-oriented markup language as it has traditionally been, to becoming an application-oriented one, as the modern web demands. Many can now dream of a revolution on the web.

Videos without Flash

The core of HTML5 is better integration of multimedia content. So far, browser plug-ins such as Adobe’s Flash Player have been needed to play video and music. But these consume resources, are prone to crashes, and most importantly, are a safety risk. Flash, in particular, allows a lot of malware to creep into a PC. In spite of this, almost all big websites use it to incorporate video, interactive applications, and other imaginative content. HTML5 intends to make a difference here - the new <audio> and <video> tags enable integration of media files directly with a web page. A simple, integrated player plays these files directly on the page without a plug-in. All that the browser needs are codecs. The hitch here: - HTML5 does not specify any particular codec. Firebox and Opera have chosen the licence-free Ogg Theora (video) and Vorbis (audio) codecs, in order to promote open standards and keep the web free of any one company’s license terms. Hence, these browsers cannot display the HTML5 videos on YouTube because these require the H.264 codec, which is only used by Chrome and Safari. H.264 works well at higher resolutions, and is more effective at compression than Theora. Internet Explorer does not currently support any HTML video codec.

Another disadvantage of the video implementation is the lack of support for acceleration using the graphics card. The Adobe Flash Player has this capability as of version 10, and thus remains a better choice for HD video on the web, especially on weaker PCs such as the popular netbooks.

The HTML5 “Canvas” function is an interesting and considerably problem-free innovation. It defines an area on the website where the browser engine can create its own graphics in real time. Thus, a browser can be instructed to draw crisp, scalable vector graphics. Your website can thus contain an integrated drawing program, games, or beautiful animation all without requiring the user to install Flash or the like. This function will become more attractive as soon as it starts supporting 3D graphics. At present, browser manufacturers are working on the WebGL standard, which will enable the Canvas function to render even complex 3D scenes in real time, using the OpenGL graphics library.

Quick and easy surfing

HTML5 supports multi-threading to avoid slowdowns that might be caused by Canvas scripts or other functions. Scripts and web applications run in parallel in separate threads. This will enable quicker rendering of sites on your screen, and eliminate jerks while scrolling or delayed text input on heavy pages. HTML5 also brings something new when working with user data. So far, such data has been stored in small cookies. As opposed to that, the new Web Storage mechanism stores data of up to 10 MB on the user's computer, either permanently or for as long as the browsing session lasts. While cookies are limited to plain text files, Web Storage uses a database that can stores even whole applications for offline use. However, this gives hackers new invasion options, which would affect all operating systems. HTML5 will, however, provide more protection in other areas. One of the biggest safety risks on web sites today is that of iFrames; sections in which the content of external sites are displayed. iFrames infected with dangerous code can hide on pages, contaminating visitors’ PCs.
To avoid this, web developers should use the Sandbox attribute in the future, instead of iFrames. This will disable or limit external sites from implementing scripts, accessing cookies and inserting or manipulating inputted data.

Further innovations include Web Forms 2.0 (forms which process text input better), new tags for page structuring, and the GeoLocation attribute. This last one is not an actual part of the HTML5 standard but can still be implemented in the browser engine. GeoLocation is a programming interface which a Web site can use to locate a computer without plug-ins. It accesses the IP address as well as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth wireless data and can display the location on a map, opening up new social interaction methods, for instance.

Soft upgrade, loud effects

Whether and when these new functions will become widespread is still unforeseeable. One of the obstacles is that Internet Explorer, the most entrenched browser, barely supports these features. The lack of a universal codec to replace Flash will also dampen momentum. The other functions will definitely be accepted and make surfing more comfortable, but will also take time to creep into the mainstream for both web developers and end users.

Source : Chip magazine.
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