5 Reasons You Should Care About HTML5

Before you dismiss HTML5 as not ready for prime time or too lightweight for real developers, consider these five reasons that you should get excited about it.

In May, Microsoft revealed the first official demo of "Windows 8" with a preview of a new tile-based UI and an app model based on HTML5. No one should have been caught off guard by this news. The rumors about Microsoft's interest in HTML5 have been swirling for months, and it's no coincidence the first-day keynote at MIX11 touted Internet Explorer 9 as the most "native" browser. The prominence of HTML5 in the Windows 8 app model, however, seemed to inflate the choler of Silverlight developers.

To be clear, we don't know much at this point, and Microsoft says more of the story will come out at the Microsoft BUILD conference this September [BUILD replaces the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference -- Ed.]. There will almost certainly be a place for Silverlight (or some other flavor of XAML backed by C#) at the Windows 8 table, but there's no doubt that HTML5 is a big -- possibly the biggest -- new player.

If you're a Microsoft client developer committed to C# and XAML, you might find it hard to get excited about Microsoft's newfound interest in HTML5 and JavaScript. It's understandable -- it's a new world. But before you dismiss HTML5 as not ready for prime time or too lightweight for real developers, consider these five reasons that you should get excited about it.

1. HTML5 represents a transformation toward taking client-side Web development much more seriously. Purists complain, but the term HTML5 has become a moniker for a collection of technologies that's much bigger than the enhancements to HTML5 itself. These include significant improvements to CSS and an expansion of the JavaScript API. But this may understate the real change that's underfoot. HTML was designed for, and is rooted in, document display. Its success as a UI platform has, arguably, been in spite of itself. HTML5 changes that. It provides a native media stack, a new generation of JavaScript optimizations and a low-level (and very fast) drawing API through the canvas element. These are the underpinnings of a full-fledged UI framework and the kind of services that normally an OS would provide.

2. HTML5 is great for a new kind of app. The last few years have brought us a new class of application, the "app," which we consume a lot more like content or media. HTML5 and JavaScript may not be fit for large-scale traditional software, but for a whole set of apps that serve as a front-end to a cloud or provide some other type of simple processing or data aggregation, they get the job done.

3. HTML5 is becoming a lingua franca for apps. When apps are content, they need to span across multiple devices and platforms just like other media. You can't afford to dismiss half of your market because of divergent technologies any more than Radiohead can release vinyl-only albums. Just as HTML has become the standard way to create and deploy Web content, it's on track to become a standard way for creating and deploying applications. Tools like PhoneGap and Appcelerator are paving the way, making it possible to create cross-platform applications using HTML5 and JavaScript. Make no mistake: Microsoft is bent on giving developers compelling reasons to build HTML5 apps that run best on Windows. Cross-platform is not a goal per se, but the unavoidable side effect will be to lower the wall around the Microsoft development ecosystem.

4. A Windows application marketplace has the potential to be enormous. Apple just announced that it has sold 14 billion apps and paid $2.5 billion to developers for creating them. Those apps run on 200 million iOS devices (including iPads). If you think mobile is big, desktop is gigantic. By comparison, Microsoft sold a whopping 350 million copies of Windows 7 in its first 18 months alone, nearly twice as many in a much more compressed amount of time. Those are convincing numbers and they provide what's perhaps the most compelling reason to care about HTML5: a big paycheck. We don't, of course, know the whole story yet, but we can guess that Windows 8 will come with an app store and, from the looks of things, those apps could be written in HTML5.

5. We're at the beginning of something big. It's easy to say that HTML5 isn't ready yet. It's certainly new, it's changing every day and estimates put the final spec out at least a few years (check out ishtml5readyyet.com and be sure to view source). But don't fail to see the forest for the trees. HTML5 is ready for many scenarios today and many more tomorrow, but that's not even the start of it. The coming months and years will bring a set of frameworks, tools and enhancements that put HTML5 on par in features and productivity with the most robust UI platform. HTML5 is not a thunderstorm -- it's a tidal wave. Smart developers won't take cover, they'll start swimming.

About the Author

Robby Ingebretsen is a designer and developer with a singular purpose: making great ideas real. As the founder and principal of Pixel Lab, he's a well-known advocate for pushing the boundaries of interactive technologies through the marriage of design and engineering. Before Pixel Lab, he worked at Microsoft, where he helped to create cutting-edge UI technologies like Silverlight and Windows Presentation Foundation. Presently he's a Silverlight MVP and established blogger and speaker. He actively maintains the site nerdplusart.com.

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