In the first major update to the web's primary mark-up language in 10 years, the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) HTML 5 promises to revolutionise the way designers create sites, and the way viewers interact with them.
The new proposals feature an array of new integrated functions, including new video and audio commands, and a range of benefits for designers looking to bring interactivity and rich internet functions to sites without the need for heavy coding.
HTML 5 focuses largely on web applications, something not adequately catered for in previous versions, which means integration into Wordpress sites and elements from applications such as Twitter and Facebook can be more easily controlled. However, because the specification is still some way from total completion, there's no immediate threat to current rich internet application (RIA) formats such as Flash and Silverlight. Some elements can already be used, or will be available in the very near future.
W3C's plans include vastly improving structural elements, which will enable greater control over a website's final appearance, while also granting increased functionality for non-code-savvy designers.
Jono Brain of Digital Blah Blah says the planned features will benefit both designers and developers: "HTML 5 will give developers much tighter control over how websites end up looking and working across the various browsers and platforms, which can only be a good thing for designers. Media content such as audio and Flash is directly supported without the need for plug-ins - it will be really interesting to see what effect this will have on Adobe Flash usage."
By including new section tags such as <nav> and <article>, HTML 5 will give designers significantly more control over the final look and feel of their websites - a gripe of HTML4 and cross-browser compatibility. Most designers these days are comfortable with the basics of CSS, and elements such as these will go a long way to simplifying mark up with the new tags replacing common <div> components.
The new language also includes support for 2D canvas drawing - adding true, rich interactivity to a site - along with tags for headers, navigation, articles and other sections which will make updatable content for blogs and sites far easier to add. Some elements from HTML 4.01 have also been dropped, such as the <font> and <center> tags, functions whose effects are now achieved by using CSS.
New APIs for 2D drawing and drag-and-drop functions have been added to the language as well, making for faster inclusion of interactive elements, including embedded video and audio.
Ste Brennan, director of Code Computerlove, comments: "HTML 5 is of great interest and is something we're keeping a close eye on. It's fantastic to see standards being pushed. However, the specification is still incomplete, is not supported by our core browser set and the decision to drop Ogg Theora [the open source, cross platform video compression codec] as its common video coding means we can't see it being an immediate threat to the established RIA."
While some parts of HTML 5 have already been released for testing, compatibility across different browsers remains a problem. However, completion of the new platform is a long-term goal of the W3C and the HTML 5 working group, and has the potential to revolutionise the way in which designers and, subsequently, end users interact with the web.
On the release of its first draft in early 2008, HTML 5 was expected to change the web by including a standardised video codec in the common language, making plug-in-based applications such as Flash, Silverlight and JavaFX obsolete. However, with the issue of the latest draft, the free Ogg Theora and Vorbis codecs have been dropped following opposition from Apple and Nokia. As such, there's no existing common video codec for web development, making current plug-ins safe, for now at least.
Andrew Shorten, platform evangelist at Adobe, believes HTML 5 will bring some exciting design benefits, but won't threaten Flash's online use: "HTML 5 faces many challenges. The browser market remains highly fragmented and incompatibilities between browsers reign. We're cautiously optimistic that HTML 5 will innovate on long-standing issues with the HTML platform while the Flash platform continues to deliver ever richer, more engaging user experiences."
Present and correct
As development continues, new features will become available to use in the design and development of sites. HTML 5 will also be more flexible in handling incorrect and older code, having been designed so that older HTML 4-based browsers can ignore the version 5 elements, enabling it to be used sooner and more safely.
If you want to find out more about the features of HTML 5, then the W3C's full working draft can be found online here, where you can also follow the group's other activities.