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Future net

The web's new coding paradigm, HTML5, is going to drastically reshape the Internet, or so we are told. But will it?

Kushan Mitra        Print Edition: March 7, 2010

- Imagine a video background to the website you are visiting.

- Imagine an interactive cursor that alters the page as you move it around.

- Imagine creating an interactive presentation on your mobile phone.

Thanks to the proliferation of rich data services-video, streaming music, real-time social media-the Internet is changing and with it, the programming language that forms its core- Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML)-is also adapting. A new modified version of HTML, called HTML5, will remove several complexities that web designers face and users experience everyday. It will also help websites become more intuitive and customised, and remove the need for several plug-ins that litter every browser today. More importantly, HTML5 will allow a true multi-screen experience, giving users on other-smaller- devices a web experience comparable to that on a desktop.

Today, as mobile phone users are well aware, the typical "rich" Internet, with its contextual drop-down menus and embedded information, works horribly on smaller devices. That is because , Adobe's Flash, the software that often powers a lot of this rich content, particularly animation and videos, does not work very well on smaller devices because of the amount of computing resources required. Many things that HTML5 will do are already possible with Flash today-online photo editing (try www.picnik.com), for example.

And while Adobe is developing a "Mobile Flash" version, products like Apple's new iPad do not have Flash support simply because Steve Jobs, Apple's Chief Executive, does not think it is useful. Jobs believes that it will be HTML5, not Flash, that will drive the Internet going forward.

But what is HTML5 all about? Simply put, it takes the Javascript/Ajax environment that allows websites a lot of interactivity across platforms, to another level. Now, before you get too confused, you use this interactivity pretty much daily if you use Google's Gmail, for example. Many of its features are built around the Javascript/Ajax platform. That is how e-mail addresses auto-complete and drop-down menus work. On HTML5, everything will become more intuitive.

It will also allow for a richer web experience. So, while today you can see mouse-overs (the little pop-ups that appear whenever your mouse pointer goes over some text), you will be able to see a dynamic web page in the sense that as you move your mouse, the page's shading will change. You would also be able to have a video background to your page. And because HTML5 will process everything on the server side (cloud computing), you can run Flash-like applications such as www.mugtug.com/sketchpad.

But HTML5 is far from being a final standard as it is still being developed. There are also questions about the video format that can be used in HTML5 because there are no popular nonproprietary video formats available.

Plus, content owners need to be assured that their content cannot be stolen. And besides this, processors such as Qualcomm's Snapdragon, with a power-sipping 1 GHz processor designed for mobile phones and portable devices, mean that today's web runs decently well even on smaller devices.

Jobs is right, the web is changing and HTML5 is the future, but the future is still quite a way from reality.

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