W3C CEO calls HTML5 as transformative as early Web

HANNOVER, Germany – “How many people have heard of HTML5?” World Wide Web Consortium CEO Jeff Jaffe asked the crowd at CEBIT on Tuesday. Almost everyone put their hand up. “Now how many of you have figured out a plan for how you’re going to use HTML5 in your business?”

Decidedly fewer hands were raised.

Even if they haven’t fully explored its potential, though, Jaffe told the conference crowd that HTML, just one of a series of specifications that make up the W3C’s Open Web standard, will be among the most disruptive elements to hit organizations since the early days of the Internet.

“We’re about to experience a generational change in Web technology, and just as the Web transformed every business, (HTML5) will lead to another transformation.”

This is in part because of HTML’s cross-browser capability, its improved data integration and the way it handles video, but Jaffe also said the spec makes Web pages “more beautiful, intelligent,” and would offer new avenues of Web accessibility to the disabled.

It’s a lot of promise for a standard spec that hasn’t been fully baked yet. “It won’t really be a standard until 2014, but in the Web ecosystem,” nobody waits,” said Jaffe, who worked as CTO at Novell prior to his role at the W3C. “They’ll make minor adjustments once the standard is done.”

While CEBIT is filled with vendors pitching products, Jaffe’s talk offered a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the W3C, a non-profit organization set up to ensure the Web remains free and opened. Working with a relatively small staff of less than 70 people out of MIT, Jaffe said the W3C has added 22 large vendors to its roster of 340 members in less than two years, including Facebook, Motorola Mobility and LG. A key area for the Open Web standard right now, he said, is the development of protection from tracking on the Web, an issue that ties into the CEBIT 2012 theme of “managing trust.” Tracking protection has become enough of a hot button that Jaffe said the W3C has created a working group to address it.

HTML5 already has significant traction in the Canadian market, where startups like Vancouver-based Mobify have launched products that use it to help optimize Web sites for mobile devices such as tablets. There’s enough interest and enthusiasm that Microsoft Canada developer evangelists John Bristowe and Andrew Howell created an HTML5 logo with a Canadian coat of arms that has been placed on T-shirts. Last month, Toronto-based training provider InfiniteSkills launched a new HTML5 training course specifically for the Apple platform.

A good example of HTML5 products at CEBIT came from TeamLab, which launched the TeamLab Document Editor at the show that works online instead of standard on-premise word processing software. Nina Gorbunova, marketing manager at TeamLab, said the product uses Canvas, a part of HTML5 that allows for dynamic, scriptable rendering of 2D shapes and bitmap images.

“This way we can guarantee 100 per cent the identity of document versions in any browser or format,” she said. “It helps us avoid all the negative consequences of using HTML4,” which does not have its own engine and rendering tools and dependent on the operating system.

Apart from major use by mobile solution providers, TV and entertainment companies and social networking services (Facebook has even offered native apps on HTML5), Jaffe predicted major benefits to a wide range of industries. These included retail, where applications could be used to find product information, or airports, to assist with logistics. There could even be HTML5-based software that tells users if a car is ready to go on a particular trip.

There are a few stumbling blocks with HTML 5, of course, including perceptions it may not work as well as other platforms, which Jaffee readily conceded could be true. “There’s always a challenge when you introduce a new technology with performance,” he said. “You don’t always get it right on the first shot.”

And while the rise of mobile devices has created major opportunities for HTML5, much will depend on what users want to happen on the Web itself, or in an application. “I don’t see it as a competition,” said Jaffe. “It’s a question of role. But there’s such a diversity of devices out there that it demands standardization.”

CEBIT 2012 runs through the end of the week. 

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