Saturday, 3 December 2011

Are we ready for HTML 5?

As we all know HTML 5 is the web specification which focuses on rich internet application development. It will surely change the way we look at web now. The "thin client" will not be thin any more. This post tries to analyse whether it is the right time for us to start development in HTML 5.

The post is very much similar to my previous post, although the title is entirely different. Last time I talked about dropping IE 6 support. This is about embracing HTML 5. But the concerns in both topics are identical.

To know whether we can use HTML 5, we need to see which all browsers supports this. Sites like will give you a clear idea about HTML5 support in various browsers. Here we can see that latest released versions of all browsers (except IE) supports most of the features of HTML 5 even though the specification is still in draft stage.
Last sentence is a positive statement but there are three negative points in it.
1. Specification is still in draft stage
2. Browsers supports Most of the features of HTML 5 (Not All)
3. All browsers except IE.
We will see each of these points one by one.

The Draft Specification
"The specification is still in draft state. So how can I develop something on top of HTML5 today? If the specification itself changes tomorrow what will happen to all my codes?"
If you look at W3C process, we can see that draft itself has various levels. So draft is not just daft. In May 2011, W3C announced that HTML 5 is going to "Last Call". So what is this last call? According to W3C, (  "Ideally, after a Last Call announcement, a Working Group receives only indications of support for the document, with no proposals for substantive change". This means there will not be any substantive change any more and we are safe. Hold on. There is one more statement. "In practice, Last Call announcements generate comments that sometimes result in substantive changes to a document". So there are chances for substantive changes. It is something like a bug report which result in change of functionality. But, we need to assume that the impact of such changes will be minimum. And as of now, there are only a limited set of issues and objections in the W3C list. There are many areas in the specification where all the browsers already have stable implementations (Eg: Canvas).  I don't think we need to expect any changes in such areas.

Feature Support in Browsers
"There is no consistency in the features supported by browsers. So how will I ensure browser compatibility"
Yes, features supported by various browsers are not consistent as of now. But final destination of all browsers are same, even though the path taken by them are different. At some point of time all will reach the target, ie full HTML 5 support. So if we adhere to HTML 5 standards, it will work in all browsers after some time, even if it is not working now. But that day is not "today" or "tomorrow". So time to market has to be a major consideration while deciding to go for HTML5. In my opinion, If your target application needs to be released before mid of next year, HTML5 may be a risky business. But if you have enough time and if you are designing a system which is expected to sustain for the next ten years, going with HTML5 will be a better bet.

Internet Explorer - Headache
"When will HTML 5 be supported in Internet Explorer"
As of now support of HTML 5 on Internet Explorer is very less. There was huge expectation on IE 9 for its HTML 5 support. But, as per, support in IE 9 is not at all in acceptable range. HTML 5 support score for IE 9 is 141 where as all other browsers has score around 300. In short we cannot consider IE 9 as an HTML 5 compatible browser.
However there is something promising about Internet Explorer 10. IE 10 platform preview 3 scored 300 points in By the time it is released, we may have an even better score. But there is a bad news. IE 10 is supported only on Windows 7 or later. This means more than half of the current computer users in the world will not be able to experience HTML 5 on IE. Just like we talked about IE 6 support, this will be an even painful issue for any public facing sites. For corporate applications, corporate can influence the users to use a particular browser. But for any public site, the vendor will not have this option. If they need to go for HTML 5, they may still need to have a fully functional (less user friendly) non-HTML5 basic version of the site to support legacy IE versions or older versions of any other browser. (Eg. Basic version of Gmail)

If your target application needs to be released before mid of next year, going for HTML5 may be a risky business as browser support is yet to stabilize. But if you are designing a system which is expected to sustain for the next ten years, HTML 5 will be the ideal option. For public facing sites which require near 100% market penetration, you may still need to have a fully functional (less user friendly) non-HTML5 basic version for older browser support


  1. Nice write up. Hope HTML5 will reduce the mundane cross-platform, cross-device app development efforts.

    I had written an article about html5 when I first heard about it and got excited about it -

  2. Thanks Madhu.
    Yes, HTML 5 will reduce the browser compatibility headaches to a great extend, if we develop in adherence with the specification.

  3. Interesting one. Thanks for the share. Keep posting such kind of post on your blog. I bookmarked it for continuous visit.
    html5 video player