the turning point that is HTML5; are you ready?

2010-05-06 @ 16:40#

i've spent some time over the last couple weeks reviewing the HTML5 specs including differences between HTML4 and HTML5 syntax, markup, and scripting. There is a very nice HTML5 presentation that sums up the new things very nicely, too.

it's been an interesting experience. truth be told, i've been around the block a few times and, over the years, product upgrades (programming languages, software applications, devices, etc.) all start to take on the same general arc for me. HTML5 and the common Web browser are no different. while the details of HTML5's new features and changes are noteworthy, it's the browser's place along that "arc" which the HTML5 spec signals that i find most intriguing; right now. the arrival of HTML5 marks a key turning point for the common Web browser. one that i think we should all heed.

hey, there's this new thing...

all products take a common trajectory from inception to burial. first there's the "hacking" stage where a small group of like-minded folks work at the low level of a technology or medium in order to experience something new. the Internet started like this. so did high-fidelity audio (hi-fi) in the 1960s, electric vehicles in the '70s, and microcomputers in the 80s.

let's all do it!

next, the product picks up mind-share and a second wave of folks come along to make it easier and more attrctive to use. the BASIC accomplished this for computer programming, HTML for the Internet. this is usually a raucous period when all sorts of competing solutions emerge attempting to gain 'mind-share' in the community. consider early Internet protocols such as WAIS, Gopher, and Archie.

you know, we could make some money off this

after a while, successful products and technologies sort out competing approaches, coalesce around a unified model and flourish. during this period, there are lots of opportunities for folks to monetize the technology and create related, supporting products and features. just think about all the applications that were developed for the Windows operating system over the last two decades. lots of profit for producers and lots of utility for consumers. for some products this lasts quite a long time (the internal combustion engine); for others, it can be short-lived (steam-powered automobiles).

hey, don't forget about us!

at some point the product/technology no longer solves current problems (or does it badly) and begins to fall out of favor. users start complaining that it's too cumbersome, too slow, or doesn't do what they want. some innovative vendors create attachments or plug-ins to solve these problems. occasionally, the product is "ported" to the new paradigm (ever used COBOL.NET?). these attempts usually work, but often turn out to be awkward or slightly ugly solutions that, over time, resemble a teetering stack of pancakes (I'd hate to be working on the source code for Microsoft Word). occasionally, the changes annoy the "old guard" and drive them away from the product.

yeah, i remember that...

almost always the additions just postone the inevitable. eventually, the world moves on and the products exist only as minor reflections of their former glory (General Motors) or as historical references to another time ("Bankers' hours").

oh yeah, about HTML5

yeah, that's right. this post was about HTML5, right? well, in case you haven't picked up on it already, IMO, after seeing what HTML5 is offering, i'm ready to say the following:

the common Web browser is over the hill. passed it's prime. dead, kaput.

what i see in HTML5 is essentially bells and whistles. nothing that makes a real difference. nothing really new. sure, it consolidates lots of loose ends, fixes some bugs, etc. and it might kill off some of the plug-ins used today. it might speed up rendering for most folks. but it doesn't change the game.

the very fact that it took so long to get HTML5 to where it is now is another indication that things are on the downward slope (see Joe Hewitt's take on this). there is very little excitement, energy, or urgency here. this is a holding action. a way to extend the life of the product.

dont' get me wrong, the people working to improve the browser are well-meaning, talented folks doing admirable work. but, IMO, they are working on a product that has seen better days and is headed toward the sunset.

HTML5 is not the future

the future is not rendering and linking documents on the Web. the future is rendering and linking data on the Web. and there is nothing here to make that experience any better than it is today (which is lousy). in many ways, the HTML5 effort makes it harder to build linked data applications since most will need to continue to rely on heavily scripted Web apps. and "over-scripting" is another sign that the common Web browser is an out-dated product.


yeah, i know it seems kinda rash to say this right now. and, yes, i expect to be writing browser-based Web apps for several years to come. but mark my words well, this is the beginning of the end for the Web browser as we know it. it will take time - years - possibly a decade. but it will happen. the document-based client application will give way to the data-based client application. and yes, it will be programmable, style-able, etc. just like the one we have today. but, not at at first (remember what Netscape Navigator looked like in the 90s?). we'll need talented, dedicated, creative people to bring this new product to life.

the turning point that is HTML5

what i've read over the last few months and what i saw at WWW2010 in April convinced me that the game is changing. there is a new playing field, new rules, and there will be new players in the game. i, for one, plan to be on the scene when the first scores are made. who knows, maybe i'll even get a chance to go out on the field and play a few rounds myself. i might even score. if i'm ready.

are you ready?