Part 3: Browser Support

HTML and other web standards are governed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), though another organization, the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG), handled most of HTML5’s development. Standards adopted by the W3C go through five stages before being formally recommended, and HTML5 is currently at an early point in this process. But in practice, features specified for each version of HTML are incorporated into browsers long before the spec itself becomes a W3C recommendation. It’s thus the browser developers that determine when new HTML features are available to a critical mass of users.

“At the moment, Internet Explorer 8 is the blocker,” says Andres Garcia, user interface development director for Zemoga, an interactive design and marketing agency. He is awaiting Internet Explorer 9, the first version of the browser to offer robust support for HTML5— including the and

Beyond supporting the new standards, IE9 will tap into the computer’s graphics processing unit to accelerate video and animation playback. It also promises faster JavaScript performance. Support for the H.264 video format will be built in, but users will also be able to play WebM video through a free software module they can install in Windows.

However, IE9 will not run on Windows XP, which remains the world’s most widely used operating system with a 54-percent market share (as of as of July 2010). Instead, IE9 will require Windows 7 or the much-maligned Windows Vista, which have combined market share of about 30 percent. Microsoft plans to end support for WinXP in 2014, but any users who remain with the older OS will have to rely on a different browser to view HTML5 content.

Other Browsers

Among other leading browsers, Apple’s Safari, Google Chrome and Opera currently provide the most extensive support for HTML5 and CSS3. FireFox 3.6 handles many HTML5/CSS3 features, but users will need FireFox 4, currently in public beta, for support that’s on par with the other browsers. This website provides an interactive tool indicating which HTML5 features are supported by each browser, and this one tells you how well your current browser supports the new spec.

Garcia notes that simply supporting HTML5 and CSS3 is not enough—these browsers also need to provide more-consistent performance in their rendering engines. “If you build an HTML5 application with animation, the performance is different among Opera and Chrome and Safari,” he says. As a result, “cross-platform development is very expensive at this moment.” For example, Garcia notes that some games developed in HTML5 include disclaimers stating that they’ll perform better in either Chrome or Safari.

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Stephen Beale has been writing about computer technology since 1983. He’s the author of seven books on computer applications in the graphic arts and a former news and reviews editor for Macworld.  He’s currently editor of a website for public relations professionals in health and medicine.



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