Nov 11, 2011

How did HTML5 become so dominant in web development?

We've seen the demise of Adobe's Flash format for mobile devices and questions about Miscrosoft's Silverlight, and it seems that HTML5 is at the point of becoming THE standard. How did this come about, considering the financial and talent resources of both Adobe and Microsoft?



One funny thing about HTML5 knocking off Flash for mobile is that while Adobe was involved in its dispute with Apple over Flash, it was also developing programming tools that supported both Flash and HTML5.  You have to think Adobe saw the writing on the wall if they were hedging their bets against their own baby.  Of course, when you had Steve Jobs pushing HTML5 specifications, you had to assume there was a reasonable chance that it would succeed.  


A difference between HTML5 and Flash/Silverlight is that HTML5 is a standard developed through the World Wide Web Consortium and has royalty free licensing.  All things being equal, people are going to prefer royalty free to paying royalties.  Well, except for the people that get the royalties, I suppose.  Another very nice thing about HTML5, assuming it becomes essentially the standard, is that there will be one common platform instead of the complexity of developing for multiple competing platforms.


Hi henyfoxe,

Here's a great background article on HTML 5 that will probably answer some of your questions:


"Following its immediate predecessors HTML 4.01 and XHTML 1.1, HTML5 is a response to the observation that the HTML and XHTML in common use on the World Wide Web is a mixture of features introduced by various specifications, along with those introduced by software products such as web browsers, those established by common practice, and the many syntax errors in existing web documents. It is also an attempt to define a single markup language that can be written in either HTML or XHTML syntax. It includes detailed processing models to encourage more interoperable implementations; it extends, improves and rationalises the markup available for documents, and introduces markup and application programming interfaces (API)s for complex web applications.[3] For the same reasons, HTML5 is also a potential candidate for cross-platform mobile applications. Many features of HTML5 have been built with the consideration of being able to run on low-powered devices such as smartphones and tablets.

In particular, HTML5 adds many new syntactical features. These include the , , and elements, as well as the integration of SVG content that replaces the uses of generic tags. These features are designed to make it easy to include and handle multimedia and graphical content on the web without having to resort to proprietary plugins and APIs. Other new elements, such as
, , and , are designed to enrich the semantic content of documents. New attributes have been introduced for the same purpose, while some elements and attributes have been removed. Some elements, such as , and have been changed, redefined or standardized. The APIs and document object model (DOM) are no longer afterthoughts, but are fundamental parts of the HTML5 specification.[3] HTML5 also defines in some detail the required processing for invalid documents so that syntax errors will be treated uniformly by all conforming browsers and other user agents.[4]"

The question is actually more one of "why did it take so long". prior to html5, developers had many problems. First there was plain html4 - adequate for flat, non-reactive pages, and reasonably platform independant. Then for active pages, there was Javascript, which immediately brought in the question of browser: Internet Explorer, Firefox or other. Then there are movies. No html standard prior to html5 dealt with moving picture support at all. Either plug-ins or non-portable support was it if you wanted movie or animation support.


To get around this platform issue with active content, adobe had their Flash platform which they ported to each major platform. Not content with letting adobe own this ground, MS developed Silverlifght for essentially the same purposes (but failed to port this to Linux or Mobile platforms).


Thus developers were left with more questions than answers. Create boring but browser and platform nuetral pages? Develop for Adobe Flash (and its attendant issues)? Restrict oneself to MS supported platforms and write in Silverlight? Write (or buy a library)  a lot of complex Javascript code with platform specific DOM bits?


Fact is, developers have been chomping at the bit for a truly platform and browser independent standard that they can develop for. MS and Adobe can be said to have been deliberately stalling the creation of the required standards, and practically speaking, that was perhaps their only tactic in the face of developer and content-consumer pressure.


In my view, the final straw has been the success of mobile devices. Neither MS nor Adobe had a good mobile device solution (with Apple refusing flash, and MS being none-existent in mobile). Nonetheless, video and active pages are a must in the mobile world, and at least one of the main mobile players (Google) is more than interested in keeping standards open and fair. As mobile pages develop and get richer, we will see the standard advance, and I expect html6 to be a lot closer than html5 was to html4.

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