Nice to meet you, do you speak HTML5?
When Sir Tim Berners-Lee developed the World Wide Web in the late 1980s, it quickly became apparent that his embryonic network of remote computer terminals needed a common language for sharing and displaying information. HyperText Markup Language was the answer, created by Berners-Lee himself and commonly abbreviated to HTML. This English-based programming language has been in constant development ever since, and today’s fifth generation offers functionalities that would have seemed inconceivable a couple of decades ago.
HTML5’s birth has not been easy. Back in the early ‘90s, Berners-Lee and a number of other like-minded individuals recognised that the internet could easily splinter into incompatible browsers and conflicting software. They created the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, as an unofficial governing body that could recommend best practice for web design and oversee the future development of HTML. However, by 2004, the W3C had become inefficient and unresponsive because of the hundreds of competing voices on its committees. In response to this, a number of engineers from companies like Apple and Mozilla formed their own splinter group to drive forward HTML development. This rival body adopted the catchy title of the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group – or WHATWG.
By 2007, WHATWG’s proposals for a version of HTML that could run applications was reluctantly accepted by W3C as an optimal future standard for the language. This meant that HTML would stop merely being a way of publishing documents, but instead becoming an operating system capable of displaying dynamic content without requiring plugins or additional software. This represented a seismic shift in HTML’s remit, and it would take another seven years of debate and disagreement before an agreed standard could be presented to the world.
Nevertheless, the results of this ten-year gestation are arguably worth the time and effort invested into them. HTML5 represents the Holy Grail of computer programming – Write Once Run Anywhere. In other words, it’s possible to create a single website or piece of code that should display equally well on almost any device or in any proprietary web browser. It shouldn’t be necessary for programmers to re-code websites to suit different browsers, and content should display regardless of which plugins are installed on that particular device. That will be especially welcomed by Apple users who have traditionally been unable to view websites containing Adobe Flash content.
As well as near-universal accessibility, HTML5 has also been programmed to deliver greater efficiency and effectiveness on mobile devices which have overtaken desktop devices in terms of their popularity for web browsing. Geolocation technology has also improved, while the introduction of <video> and <audio> tags enables dynamic content to be incorporated into the fabric of websites rather than being overlaid using third-party software or apps. At the same time, responsibility for little-used elements like <strike> and <basefont> has been handed over to Cascading Style Sheets. CSS will continue to play a key role in web design, meaning that any budding web designers still need to understand how this style sheet language can affect the formatting of HTML pages.
Although WHATWG see HTML5 as a constantly evolving platform, W3C intended last autumn’s release to be a definitive version that will eventually be supplanted by a modified HTML5.1. This reflects the ongoing conflict between the two bodies sharing responsibility for the language’s future development – constant updates versus periodic revisions. Regardless of how HTML adapts and changes in future, it will certainly have a major impact on the way we view and access the internet, even if most people don’t notice much difference during their daily web browsing activities.
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