by December 2, 2010 0 comments

Tim Berners-Lee would probably never have imagined the long term consequence of developing the humble HTTP protocol and HTML language to go along with it. Starting out as a way to simply ‘link’ information pages with each other, it has grown to a behemoth that encompasses almost any technology related solution that you can think of today. It has led to wars (luckily of the browser kind only), competition, advancements and much more than what it initially was meant for.

The Web has continued to evolve —-sometimes slowly and many a time at breakneck speeds.
When Ajax based implementations came up, it was termed as Web 2.0. Social Networking took it up to Web 3.0. Currently we’re in the post 3.0 —- almost 4.0 era of the Web — where mashups, social integration and more vie for attention. We take a look at what’s coming up in the near and far future for this platform.

The Cloud is the silver lining

Cloud computing has really taken off in this year —- with Amazon, Microsoft and some other players pushing hard for dominance in this space. Web based solutions looking for scale up and scale down as per requirements are becoming more and more important. Imagine a site that requires more resources during a certain period of time or a certain shopping season. In a Cloud based environment, scaling up the resources allocated (at a cost of course) is easy. So is scaling down when those resources are not required anymore —-a huge cost saving instead of investing in hardware, software and services at a long term contract.
Web based solutions are more and more taking advantage of these scale-up, scale-down type of services and the future is extremely bright for this. We predict that a lot of web ‘sites’ will become Cloud services in the near future that will auto- or manually scale as required.

HTML 5 = Web 5.0?
We talked about the many ‘versions’ of the Web. With the upcoming HTML 5.0, we might have to furnish the Web with yet another new version —- this time to sync with the version of HTML. The HTML 5.0 spec is currently under process in the WHATWG and W3C. HTML 5 introduces a number of new changes in the way that the Web, Web pages and sites work and be programmed.
Amongst other things, HTML5 enables compliant browsers to have features such as multimedia (audio/video) content directly in the page, a 2D drawing ‘canvas’, drag-and-drop of elements on the page, offline storage area or database and many more changes.
Many of these were possible before only with complex coding or by using plug-ins such as Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight. HTML5 does not however replace or supersede these plug-ins —-which have many more capabilities.
HTML5 is being touted as the next big thing on
the Web — and no doubt it is. Most browser
making companies are already creating implementations of it for their next versions. However, the important thing to realize is that the current status of HTML5 is a ‘Working Draft at the W3C’. It is expected to become a final draft only by the end of 2012 and a working recommendation by 2022! Till then, implementations of the draft will be based on the interpretation of the browser makers —-leading to the next section…

Browser wars are back again
The battle for HTML5 domination is already underway from each and every major player in the browser market. Whether it be Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari or Opera —-each maker has come up with betas for their next version which all claim HTML5 compatibility —- all for something that is not even finalized yet.
Interestingly, the W3C did a benchmark themselves of all the latest builds of the browsers and crowned the public beta of Internet Explorer 9 to be most compliant with the current draft of the HTML5 spec. But as new versions come out from each maker, expect this to change back and forth between each of the others. The problem of course is for Web developers. The different interpretations of the spec will lead to each browser implementing something their own way and Web developers having to develop for each browser separately. The future looks a lot like late 90s/early 2000s for Web designers.
The other thing that all browser makers are also now going to be using your machine’s video card or GPU for rendering the pages and rich content on them. Started by Microsoft with Internet Explorer 9, all the others have also now promised to start using the GPU. This is also partly due to HTML5’s abilities of HD audio, video and a 2D canvas and enhanced document object model for JavaScript based animations and transitions. A lot of work is going in to optimize the browser for these — especially moving all the processing over to the GPU for machines that have DX9 or above capable graphic cards. How this will affect machines without these GPUs or not having DirectX (Linux, Mac) is anyone’s guess as of now. They will probably use a software rendering fallback at a decrease in performance and fidelity.

The future of Plug-ins
A lot has been said and written about regarding the relevance or lack thereof of browser plug-ins. While you might have an opinion for or against them, there is no doubt that the both Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight provide a bunch of features that surpass significantly anything that HTML5 can do. The question is whether those are enough for significant enough for their survival. A recent remark by a Microsoft top executive regarding the importance of HTML5 was misconstrued as saying that Silverlight is no longer a priority.
Microsoft made it very clear that they do wish IE9 to be the best HTML5 browser out there — but Silverlight is a top focus feature as well. If you look at the number of sites —- especially in the games and media content space on the Web, they are completely dominated by Flash and Silverlight. Will the requirement for these go down with HTML5 capable browsers? Yes, for basic stuff like animations and 2D graphics — this is a good thing. You don’t have to install a plug-in or download a binary just to get some simple video or 2D content on the screen.

Mobile devices
With mobile devices becoming more and more popular for Web access, Web sites themselves are targeting these devices. Although most of the modern devices can render desktop-optimized sites without any issues, it is not uncommon for sites to have iPhone, iPad, Android and other popular mobile
device-optimized versions available. With the upcoming HTML5, hopefully this too will be done away with if the mobile browsers move to HTML5 quickly enough.
A huge amount of data that is consumed in the next few years on the Web will be coming from these mobile devices and it is more important than ever to start getting ready for them.

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