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22 Jun. Posted by Ashley Flynn in Development | 2 comments

HTML 5 – What will this mean for the web and its developers?

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As the excitement builds around the forthcoming HTML5 standard. Web developers look on in anticipation about what the platform will allow us to do and whether it really represents the revolution so many desperately call for.

As the very closed demo offered by apple shows, HTML5 offers loads of funky new abilities which, whilst not necessarily breaking new ground, simplify many modern tasks like video and multimedia handling.

New features aside, we developers may hope that this new standard can finally break that vicious cycle we find ourselves in. That HTML5 might be so new and exciting; people will have to upgrade their browsers to enjoy it.

For years developers have had to cater not only for a large range of browsers, but also old versions of the same browser. Microsoft Internet Explorer is surely the most famous and frustrating in this category. Released in 2001, when formal web standards had not been established, IE6 quickly became infamous for misbehaving (and it was far from the only one). Your newly crafted, beautiful website that took days to get “just right” looked like a high school student had been forced to have their first bash at putting a page together during detention. There’s text all over your header, your footer should NEVER look like that and where the hell did that second column go?

To address this, the W3C and XHTML quickly gained popularity. A standard that meant as long as we web developers followed the rules; our sites would look the same across browsers.

Unfortunately browser developers were not as quick on the uptake, especially the fellows at Microsoft. That was until they released IE7, their ‘almost, but not quite’ attempt that gave developers yet another unpredictable browser to work with. With Firefox gaining ground in the market and Opera being the definition of a ‘standards compliant browser’, Microsoft was finally forced to bite the bullet and jump aboard with IE8. So, they got there in the end right? Took 7 years or so but finally we developers can create something and know it will function just how we expect cross browser.

Well no… for our pains 9.59% of users on the web still use IE6.

Broswer usuage statistics 21/06/2010

Ten percent use a web browser that is a decade old (as of 21/06/2010). Some may think that as the rate is low and constantly declining we can ignore these users. Indeed campaigns have been going for some years to actively deny access to visitors using IE6. But try telling a client, particularly a client that uses their site to sell goods and services, that you’re not going to bother making their site work for 10% of their potential customers and see how they feel about it.

Whilst the dream of a unifying standard was hatched years ago, we actually find ourselves having to cater for a wider and wider range of browsers than ever before.

So back to the question, can HTML5 finally be the catalyst to put the old browsers to bed? Will we finally have the dream situation where one size fits all development can be achieve and we can focus on the actual content? I would love to think so.

But that small niggling feeling at the back of mind remains. Sure IE 6 will die off over time. Apart from poorly thought through Intranets and web applications, users have virtually no reason not to make the leap. But if the cycle is going to be 10- 15 years worth of compatibility support being necessary, we are now facing the need to support IE6, IE7, XHTML AND HTML5

Yikes! Unity may be the dream, but history is not on our side


7:56 PM 6/21/2010Dave Christian says...
Great article! I work as a web developer at a large multinational business credit reporting company that has many thousands of customers and at the last analysis of our logs around 28% of our users use IE6. We get complaints from IE6 when one of our websites doesn't render correctly in their favourite old browser too.

It is a frustrating state of affairs sometimes and I really hope that buzz about HTML5 (this decades equivalent of 'Web 2.0'?) will persuade the IE6 users to upgrade at last. We can but hope....

8:36 PM 6/21/2010Mike Edmundson says...
When will people wake up to the fact that old browsers are bad news. Not just for web developers either. There are so many security holes in IE6 it is frightening. Let's hope that the enticing features of html5 really will persuade people to ditch old browsers.

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