Saturday, September 18, 2010

Better Browsers, Better Internet

HTML5 is here. We are all familiar with the ubiquitous http:// in our browser's address bar when we go to our favorite websites. (stands for Hyper Text Transport Protocol) The other end of the string is often concluded with .html, we've all seen it whether we knew what it was or not. In basic terms Hyper Text Markup Language is the way the browser crafts the presentation of the web page. It was the basis for the advent of the World Wide Web. Since the mid 90's and birth of the Internet as we know it, more and more advanced features and capabilities have been developed to provide Rich Internet Applications or RIA.

Today, RIA uses Adobe Flash, JavaFX, and Microsoft Silverlight & AJAX. With so many developers and technologies trying to achieve the same purpose by different approaches it causes major headaches for everyone in the Web 2.0 world. There is a need for standardization which needs to be embedded into all browsers. Ultimately the current RIA plugins have been a boon for the Internet experience but they are also quite often a pain in the ass for the end user as well. So, along comes HTML5.

The real purpose of the new HTML5 standard is to make things more generic and better for the internet world. The problem is the world's most popular browser, Internet Explorer still doesn't support it. Firefox and Chrome (and I'll assume Safari) have supported it since 2008. Internet Explorer version 9 will support it - someday, a good thing. Yet even when IE9 adopts HTML5 millions upon millions of computers will still be using the old versions of IE for years.

Web page developers will be forced to deal with this reality for the foreseeable future. It has been estimated that 16-25% of computers are still using IE6 years and years after new browsers have been available. Why?

The problem is that people don't care. Many people simply don't know what a browser is. They know what a computer is, they may even understand what a hard drive is, but most people just click a certain button and get to the Internet. Most people don't realize that they have a choice in browsers. If it came with Windows and it works what's the problem? Even if they understand they have a choice actually installing software is a daunting thing for a lot of people.

How important is this in the over all scheme of things? For one more and more functionality of the computer is moving toward the browser. Anyone in the IT support business can tell you that almost all of the tools are browser based. It makes a lot of sense but it makes the browser more and more important. Most of these tools are written for IE and therefore changing browsers or supporting multiple browsers in a large enterprise is a huge task.

So home users are hampered by the challenge of installing something they don't understand and the corporate/institution is hampered by the scope of it. HTML5 promises to make the Internet an easier and richer experience, but it will take a while to get there I'm afraid.

P.S. After I pushed publish on this post (written using Firefox 3.6.8) I opened up IE on this old laptop. Wouldn't you know it - version 6. I had to laugh at myself. In this case it was inattentiveness or plain laziness. Honestly I predominantly use Firefox but I still use IE whenever I remotely connect to work. I am heading off to Microsoft to download IE 8 right now...