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HTML 5 Series Part 1: Introduction to HTML5

HTML5 has been a long time coming in the online community. This computer language, which stands for hypertext markup language, is the basis for all Web pages. HTML5 aims to do away with proprietary applications and plug-ins for the Internet making Web sites and their features accessible to all platforms.

The Backstory

Tim Berners-Lee developed HTML in 1990. While revolutionary, the first two versions of HTML allowed for little more than displaying text on a Web page. Around 1995, Netscape, the tech powerhouse of the time, developed proprietary tags for use in their browsers in what they called HTML 3.0. That version of HTML was never universally recognized, though the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) used some attributes, including the TABLE and ALIGN functions, in HTML3.2. The fourth, and current, iteration became the standard in 1998 which added support for cascading stylesheets (CSS) as well as other third party plug-ins including Flash and Javascript.

While the Internet works well enough for the majority of users, developers are still restricted proprietary third-party software that requires plug-ins to function.

Interest in developing a new standard of HTML that would be compatible and accessible with all platforms lead to the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG)—a group of representatives from tech giants including Apple, Opera and Mozilla-- publishing the first public working draft of HTML5 in 2008.

The Need for HTML5

On the user's side, HTML5 allows for faster load times for multimedia elements since the dynamic code is part of the same Web-based application. This cuts down on Web page timeouts that force the user to reload pages or lose patience and leave a Web site. HTML5 will also display Web pages across all browsers identically. This aspect makes it easier for developers to introduce new browsers to the online community.

A subtle but powerful difference is the adoption of clear semantics defining certain page attributes. Instead of relying on a "div" tag to designate individual elements, developers and designers will be able to use a simple "video" tag or "article" tag to indicate those particular elements. This makes the coding much easier to read and edit.

These individual tags are non-proprietary standards meant to increase and standardize the Web by taking the place of Adobe or Microsoft-specific attributes. Along with simplifying these terms, HTML5 also does away with presentational HTML tags, like the "strong" tag to make elements bold, encouraging designers to use HTML5 for functionality and relying on CSS, cascading style sheets, for the Web site's presentation.

Looking Forward

HTML5 is still a working draft. Full implementation won't take place for at least another few years. Despite this, the developer community along with the influential technology producers including Google and Apple are embracing this change and already supporting HTML5 in their products. At the moment, Firefox and Google Chrome as well as Opera and Safari for iPhone support a variety of HTML5 elements. While Microsoft is notorious for relying on proprietary software like Silverlight to support multimedia elements, Internet Explorer 9 is set to release in 2011 and has full HTML5 support. CanIUse.com has an interactive listing of which browsers support which HTML elements.

Check back each day this week for more articles in the HTML5 series:
Part 1: Introduction to HTML5
Part 2: Groundbreaking Functionality
Part 3: Changing the Mobile Web
Part 4: Conclusion