[X3D-Public] HTML5 articles of interest from Government Computer News (GCN)

Don Brutzman brutzman at nps.edu
Tue Oct 13 11:44:05 PDT 2009

HTML 5: What's new about it?
Precise elements and application programming interfaces

By Joab Jackson
Aug 28, 2009

HTML 5 will maintain backward compatibility with all former versions, while 
cleaning up some ambiguities of the previous version of the markup language. It 
will also offer a number of new elements, or markup symbols, that can more 
precisely define the elements of a Web page. And for the first time, HTML will 
come with a set of application programming interfaces (API) that assist 
developers in setting up Web applications.

Here are some highlights:

New Elements:

     * Article and Aside: Elements for marking the main body of text for a page 
and for additional sidebars of text, respectively.
     * Audio and Video: Elements for marking video and audio files. With these 
elements in place, application authors can write their own interfaces or use a 
browser's built-in functions for actions such as fast-forwarding or rewinding.
     * Canvas: An element that can used for rendering dynamic bitmap graphics on 
the fly, such as charts or games.
     * Details: An element that could be put in place to allow users to obtain 
additional information upon demand.
     * Dialog: An element that defines written dialog on a Web page.
     * Header and Footer: Elements for rendering headers and footers to a Web page.
     * Meter: An element that can be used to render some form of measurement.
     * Section: This element can be used to define different sections within a 
Web page.
     * Nav: An element for aiding in navigation around a site.
     * Progress: An element that can be used to represent completion of a task, 
such as downloading file.
     * Time: An element to represent time and/or a date.


     * An API for allowing Web applications to run off-line.
     * An API for crossdocument messaging, which allows two parts of a Web page 
that come from different sources to communicate information.
     * An API for dragging and dropping content across a Web page.
     * An API for drawing 2-D images for the canvas tag.
     * An API for playing audio and video, used in conjunction with the audio 
and video tags.

Source: "HTML 5 differences from HTML 4" ( 
http://dev.w3.org/html5/html4-differences/ ) and HTML 5 Draft ( 
http://dev.w3.org/html5/spec/Overview.html )

The long road to HTML 5
New version will bring the Web into the modern era—eventually

     * By Joab Jackson
     * Aug 31, 2009

When the White House decided earlier this summer to create a visual dashboard on 
the USAspending.gov Web site, it used an obvious technology for the job: Adobe 
Flash, which can render graphics and animations on Web pages.

The developers also are planning to use Microsoft Silverlight for future parts 
of the service, too, according to a source. The choices make sense. Flash 
players and, to a lesser extent, Silverlight are widely accessible by browsers 
in the United States. But by using those technologies, the White House was 
showing a preference for a single vendor's technologies, something government 
agencies try to avoid. It looks too much like an endorsement and invites vendor 

To be fair, Adobe has been open about Flash. The company published the Flash 
specification on its Web site, and the underlying language, ActionScript, is 
open source. But using Flash still relies largely on a single vendor's authoring 
tool and player.

At the Government Web Managers Conference in Washington in April, federal Chief 
Information Officer Vivek Kundra talked about how the government should use 
standards where applicable to avoid issues of lock-in. However, he also noted 
that Web managers can't always wait for the slow process of standards 
development. USAspending.gov is a prime example of relying on what Kundra called 
a de facto standard.

One reason is that the standardized, vendor-neutral language used to create the 
Web, the Hypertext Markup Language, doesn't yet have the tools to create Rich 
Internet Applications, such as dashboards.

The World Wide Web Consortium, the standards body behind HTML, ratified the 
current version, HTML 4, in 1997. In the long interval since then, W3C has been 
criticized for letting the Internet world jump ahead of the HTML standards. At 
the XML 2007 Conference in Boston, Yahoo JavaScript Senior Architect Douglas 
Crockford noted that a number of single-vendor offerings have sprung up because 
of a lack of standards for offering rich Internet content. Microsoft Silverlight 
and Adobe Flash are two of them.

W3C is working on HTML 5 to meet those new demands, promising that the new 
version will offer the tools to build rich Internet applications without 
requiring plug-ins from a vendor.

"The general goal of all of the work that we are doing on client-side browser 
technologies is to provide developers and users with the choice of a common, 
open Web platform based on completely open standards and with a feature set that 
is on par with the set of features available from other application-delivery 
platforms both on and off the Web," said Mike Smith, co-chairman of the W3C 
working group that is drafting the new standard. HTML 5 will offer developers 
the ability to draw graphics and create full-scale Web applications. HTML 5 also 
will likely offer video and audio without plug-ins.

One might assume that the industry would move uniformly toward HTML 5, given 
that the entire Web was built on the language. But that doesn't seem to be the 
case. Microsoft and Adobe are contributing engineers to the HTML 5 standards 
development process, yet both remain noncommittal about adopting HTML 5, at 
least while it is still in development.

Work on HTML 5 started in 2004. W3C accepted a draft in 2007 and published a 
first public working draft in January 2008. But even though it’s been around a 
while, it still has a long way to go. "The HTML 5 timeline states that it will 
be at least a decade before the evolving HTML 5 efforts are finalized, and it 
remains to be seen what parts will be implemented consistently across all 
browsers," said Dave McAllister, Adobe's director of standards and open source.

In the meantime, the developers recommend that government agencies experiment 
with HTML 5 but not use it for production systems. They also want agencies to 
send feedback to the W3C working groups.

New features

To understand where HTML 5 needs to go, it is helpful to think about how we use 
the Web. In 1997, much of what people did on the Web involved looking at Web 
pages. There were some online services at the time, such as Amazon or eBay, but 
most sites were static.

However, people are increasingly using Web applications, or services that 
execute specific tasks on their behalf. For example, there are online 
spreadsheets and word processors from Google and others. Those applications 
require advanced functionality, such as the ability to save a Web application to 
a local hard drive so users don't need to download it every time they need it. 
And applications also need sophisticated controls, beyond the simple links that 
HTML supports.

Web applications have an extra level of interactivity, said Bruce Lawson, 
standards evangelist at Opera Software ASA, maker of the Opera browser. The Web 
experience is no longer just about "reading the text on the page and clicking on 
the links. There is a lot going on there. HTML 4 is excellent at traditional 
pages, but it is hard to write Web applications in HTML 4 because the language 
wasn't designed for Web applications."

"HTML 5 tries to bring HTML into the world of application development," said 
Vlad Vinogradsky, senior principal architect at Microsoft. The idea is to make 
HTML 5, along with companion technologies such as JavaScript and Cascading Style 
Sheets, an application development platform.

For instance, the canvas element of HTML 5 allows images to be rendered on a 
browser rather than in the server, as is currently done. So if a user is 
crunching data and would like to see a pie chart or graph, the canvas element 
can display the chart without transmitting the information back to the server 
for rendering. "Canvas allows you to carve out an area on the screen and start 
painting it," Vinogradsky said.

In addition to the canvas function, HTML 5 offers a range of features for 
building Web applications, such as the ability to save applications on a local 
hard drive and support for more sophisticated navigation features.

HTML 5 also delves more deeply into the world of multimedia, such as video or 
audio files. Its video tag will allow browser-makers to develop built-in media 

Another big advance of HTML 5 is that will incorporate Extensible HTML, or 
xHTML, a version of HTML that is rendered as a subset of an Extensible Markup 
Language application. Casting HTML pages into an XML format allows their 
contents to be parsed more thoroughly by computers. It will not be a requirement 
that Web pages be rendered in strict XML syntax, which requires more diligence 
on the part of the page authors, but pages that are rendered in such a format 
will be machine-readable, Smith said.

Hurdles ahead

The final call for changes in the HTML 5 specification is set for October, 
although a lot of work remains after that.

In a way, the W3C working groups behind HTML 5 — the HTML Working Group and the 
Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group — are stuck between a rock 
and a hard place. On one hand, they need to craft a standard that will cover all 
possible uses of the Web. On the other hand, they need to keep up with the work 
that Microsoft, Adobe and others are doing to extend the Web with their 
individual technologies. In addition, HTML 5 should be backward-compatible, 
meaning pages rendered in earlier versions of HTML will continue to work in new 
HTML 5-ready browsers.

"It's a time-consuming process, and there is no way to short-circuit it without 
also shortchanging the quality of the specification," Smith said.

Crafting a standard is an iterative process, he said. "Among the factors are the 
issue of getting agreement from implementers and from the community about what 
particular features to include, how to prioritize them, and what exactly the 
precise specification text for those features should be," Smith said.

A draft must be written, then posted for feedback. Once feedback is in, 
developers must alter it to address the valid points. The resulting changes must 
be posted for further review. Developers also need to write test cases, which 
can expose differences among the implementations.

Could development be broken into multiple chunks? It could, but it wouldn't 
speed the process, Smith said. "A specification of this scale is inherently 
complex to the degree that many parts of it are [intermingled] with one another 
in such a way that it's very difficult to split them up into separate 
stand-alone components without doing damage to the integrity of the 
specification as a whole," he said.

In a recent blog post, Lawson described a number of issues that still need to be 
worked out. One, for instance, is that some of the elements are ambiguously 
defined. Although most of the new tags could be readily understood — the Header 
and Footer tags, for instance, should be obvious to everyone — other tags, such 
as the Aside tag, are open to interpretation.

"Everything is fine as long as everyone understands what the tag means, and they 
use it all the same way,” Lawson wrote. “But if it is ambiguously defined, it 
can be used in different ways, so there is no use of trying to mark something up 
using an element if no one understands what the element is for."

Another hurdle is selecting the appropriate video format, or codec. The working 
groups do not seem to be able to standardize on one. Some members are arguing 
for the open-source Ogg Theora format, while others are opting for H.264. Google 
has declined to use Ogg, citing bit-rate quality issues and the fact that the 
Ogg format has not been entirely cleared of patent encumbrances. For its Safari 
browser, Apple has opted for H.264, which can offer higher video quality but 
costs money for browser companies to license. The W3C has made it a point not to 
standardize on any technologies that must be licensed to use.

Another issue that federal agencies should keep in mind is that HTML 5 still has 
a way to go in complying with Section 508 standards, which require agencies to 
make information technology systems accessible to people with disabilities. The 
W3C worked to make HTML 4 Section 508-compliant, but several of HTML 5’s 
features, notably the video tag and the canvas element, don't have provisions 
for providing alternate text for what they display, especially in cases where 
they are displaying dynamically created content, Lawson said.

Taking part

Despite those concerns, Lawson is optimistic that, when it does arrive, HTML 5 
will be a success. "I'm pretty certain these things will be shaken out before 
[HTML 5] goes live," Lawson said.

What should agencies do to prepare? Although they should keep an eye on HTML 5, 
they should not be using it on production Web sites yet, Smith said. "No 
organization should be using any new features from the HTML 5 draft with the 
assumption that they are stable or supported across browsers," he said.

Indeed, browser support for HTML 5 varies. Version 8 of Internet Explorer, for 
instance, implements certain HTML 5 features, such as DOM-based storage and 
crossdocument messaging, which is the ability to build a customized Web page, 
securely, from multiple data sources. Other browsers have implemented others 
features. Firefox, Opera and Safari offer the canvas tag, for instance.

Vinogradsky said federal Web managers should "stay abreast with all the 
developments and try to actively participate." If an agency has particular 
requirements for the standards, being actively involved in the standards 
development process is a good way to ensure that your needs will be addressed.

Lawson noted that unlike former iterations of the HTML development process, 
anyone can join the HTML 5 working groups. Previously, only large organizations 
could afford to sponsor a representative. The current working groups have 
pledged to consider all valid input, no matter the source.

Will HTML 5 eliminate the need for technologies such as Silverlight or Flash? 
Vinogradsky said no: Developers will use a mixture of both, weighing the 
trade-offs of each technology. No matter how well-intentioned browser-makers 
are, variances between how browsers render pages will always occur. A developer 
has to weigh crossbrowser flexibility and the ability to use advanced features 
supported by any one particular browser.\

"I think it is premature to jump into HTML 5, but it certainly is a technology 
to watch," Vinogradsky said. "And you certainly need to have a voice in the 

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.


all the best, Don
Don Brutzman  Naval Postgraduate School, Code USW/Br           brutzman at nps.edu
Watkins 270   MOVES Institute, Monterey CA 93943-5000 USA  work +1.831.656.2149
X3D, virtual worlds, underwater robots, XMSF  http://web.nps.navy.mil/~brutzman

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