Innovation: One web language to rule them all
17:52 22 April 2010 by MacGregor Campbell
For similar stories, visit the Innovation Topic Guide
Innovation is our regular column that highlights emerging technological ideas and where they may lead
How would you like to have just one all-powerful program on your computer? No cluttered "start" menu or "dock" to make your selection from, just one icon to click that opens up a window capable of any task you may require.
In fact, you are already using that one all-powerful program: it's your web browser.
A new version of the standard HyperText Markup Language (HTML) used to make web pages is in the works. The new standard, called HTML5, is not yet complete, but its impressive features and the fact it has attracted the backing of major computer manufacturers and web-content producers has set it on course to dramatically change the way we use computers.
HTML5's power is that it can break down the barrier between applications running online and those on your own device almost completely.
Advanced web services like like Google Docs or the online version of Photoshop already make it possible to edit photos or spreadsheets much as you can with a traditional program. But those web applications don't feel quite right, because the current form of HTML ring-fences the web from the rest of a computer.
Web apps can't do things like drag-and-drop files between your web browser and computer desktop, offer full functionality when you're not online, or play various media without extra software plug-ins. HTML5 makes it possible to do all that, making it a technology with appeal to both web users and the companies and programmers that provide web services.
In the past week Google used HTML5 to make it possible to drag files into its online email service as you would if moving them around on your own computer, and also announced that it would soon use HTML5 to make it possible for online documents to be accessed and edited even when not connected to the internet, by storing data locally and seamlessly syncing it as soon as when a connection is available.
Apple used the recent launch of its iPad to provide another major boost to the nascent standard, attracted by the way it can prevent a browser having to rely on third-party software like Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight to display video or interactive media.
Apple made it clear that the iPad and the iPhone will never run Flash, the Adobe software used by an estimated 99 per cent of internet connected machines to deliver video and other content.
It was seen by many commentators as a move that would prevent buyers of the iPad from fully experiencing the web. But while turning its back on Flash, Apple is embracing HTML5. As a result many large producers of web content are also embracing it. And why not – the new standard will make putting video, audio or even games into a webpage as simple as embedding images.
Despite six years in the making, HTML5 is still not fully baked. A consortium of web programmers, web enthusiasts and academics is still finalising its exact shape and wrestling with both the big questions like how to free the web of third-party plug-ins and thousands of minutiae, ranging from how windows open to how links are displayed.
Major debates about its final form are still raging, such as which format is best for video, but every day brings us closer to the day when we need only open one program to do anything we want.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn1 ... m-all.html