There is a universal technology most IT staff encounter every day — and it’s not Microsoft Office. It’s a Web browser.

Yet many IT pros have only a rudimentary knowledge of HyperText Markup Language (HTML), which is how we can see text, images, and videos on a page.

Thanks to automated Web authoring tools, the knowledge of what’s under the hood doesn’t have to be extensive. But the long-expected official approval last month by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) of HTML5 as the latest version of the language deserves some background because it promises to be a revolutionary leap in what can be done on the Web.

The story of industry in-fighting between the W3c and the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group comes from The New Yorker, which on Thursday published a puckish history of HTML from its beginning to where we are today. For those who don’t know, it’s a great read.

Like all open standards, HTML5 has had a long incubation and its final version has been known for some time. More than a few products and Web sites already use and support it, from BlackBerry to SAP.

At the piece notes, in the beginning HTML only tagged text and JPGs. HTML5 is “a connective tissue that holds together a host of other technologies. Audio, video, pictures, words, headlines, citations, open-ended canvases, 3-D graphics, e-mail addresses–it lets you say that these things exist and gives the means to pull them into one solitary page.”

It can also automatically validate code, important, says the piece because “not every Web site offers valid HTML, just as not every Catholic eschews pre-marital sex. The percentage of pure and valid HTML on the web is probably the same as the percentage of Catholics who marry as virgins.”

See, there is sex. As for the piano rolls, well, you’ll have to read it for yourself.