Hot or Not? HTML 5

If you’re a web developer, you’ve probably heard a lot about HTML 5, the all-in-one standard to replace HTML 4.01, XHTML 1.0, and DOM Level 2 HTML. The HTML 5 specification is a 500+ page tome that explains in precise detail every element, attribute and feature that’ll power the next generation of Web applications - part documentation of what already makes the Web work today and part innovation.Hot or Not?  What better way to look at HTML 5 and the future of the Web than through a vestige of the old Web: What parts of HTML 5 are Hot…or Not?


The Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG), founded by people from Apple, Mozilla, and Opera set out in June 2004 to figure out what was next for HTML. Six years later, we’re a bit closer to knowing what’s next, however, the W3C HTML 5 group estimates the specification won’t be complete until 2022 (or when there are complete implementations in two browsers, whichever comes first). Having to wait until 2022 to play with HTML 5? Not Hot. Major browsers adding more and more support for various aspects of the HTML 5 draft everyday? Hot.

Most web developers use the names of classes and ids to label and identify their page structure (for example, <div id=”header”>, <div id=”footer”>). With similar objectives, HTML 5 includes new elements to define the structure of your pages, for example, <article>, <section>, <aside>, <footer>, and <nav>. Using these elements will help you semantically structure and understand your markup, and can help search bots and accessibility tools like screen readers better understand your pages. Verdict? Hot. The <div> tag can stop being the Swiss army knife of layout.

<Video> and <Audio> are two major new features in HTML 5. Now you don’t need to use Flash or Silverlight to play media. For your customers, this means not having to install plug-ins, and a consistent experience across all sites for media consumption. Hot? maybe…

Unfortunately, the <video> and <audio> tags don’t define a single video or audio format for all browsers to support – and as a result, depending on the browser that your customer is using, they may or may not be able to watch video or listen to audio on your page. Furthermore, if you depend on advanced features in Flash and Silverlight like content protection or accessibility, you currently won’t find them in <video> and <audio>. Verdict? Until browsers settle on a de facto video and audio standard for HTML 5, Not hot.

In an effort to be backwards compatible and reflect how people actually use HTML today, HTML 5 is compatible with a huge number of different coding practices. Opening and closing tags can be optional. Some elements can be self-closing. And attribute quotes are not necessarily required either. This is just the tip of the iceberg of changes you’ll run into. HTML 5 deprecates some tags, and un-deprecates others. For example, the <i> tag is back – and this time, it doesn’t represent italics. The <i> is used in dialogue to refer to text in an alternate voice or mood.

Verdict: Not hot. It’s nice that HTML 5 is bending over backwards to be backwards compatible, but the use of re-purposed deprecated tags instinctively makes my skin crawl. Plus, having so much flexibility means that markup is going to vary in style even more between pages, and it may be hard for newbs to figure out the basics while grappling with questions like, “Do I have to close this tag? Can this tag be self-closing? Do I need to use single or double quotes here? Do I even need to use them at all?”

These are just a few of the new markup-based features in HTML 5 that are notable. There are countless changes in the DOM API, and still more markup based changes – like new form controls and validation (these are definitely Hot) that enable you to specify input types, such as a phone number, and then let the browser validate it for you.

Deep within the tome that is the HTML 5 draft specification there are many great changes for web designers. Just because they’re not hot now, doesn’t mean that they won’t be later! These changes just need to find their way out from awkward draft stage to final Hot specification.

Justin Harrison
Program Manager, Microsoft Expression Web