File Under: Events, Programming

Google Throws Its Weight Behind HTML 5

SAN FRANCISCO, California — This morning was HTML 5′s big coming-out party.

At Google I/O, the company’s developer conference taking place at the Moscone Center here this week, Google Vice President of engineering Vic Gundotra centered the majority of his keynote presentation around what the company is doing to promote the next version of HTML, the mark-up language upon which the bulk of the web is built.

HTML 5 is still nascent technology. It’s only in the draft specification stage, mired in committee at the W3C, the web’s governing body. But HTML 5 is already being implemented in the wild, both as experimental demos and as the driving technology behind the latest wave of web applications.

“HTML 5 offers us a chance to do things differently,” says Gundotra. He also noted that in the last decade, we’ve seen close to a 100X improvement in JavaScript parsing across the major browsers that helps make the latest apps run faster.

To illustrate his point, Gundotra showed several breakthrough HTML 5 demos during his keynote. You can view all of the demos here.

We saw a video playing in a mocked-up version of a YouTube page without using Flash. All of the video playback was handled using the HTML 5 video tag.

“The problem with video right now is that there’s too much outside of your control,” Gundotra says. “HTML 5 gives you a <video> tag that’s as simple to use as the <image> tag.”

We also saw a motion-tracking video app rendered in JavaScript, complete with full-motion HTML video playback. A woman walked across the camera’s field of view while a JavaScript app, running in the browser, tracked her movement and dynamically drew bounding boxes around the different parts of her body as she paced back and forth. Normally, this intense of an app would cause the browser to lock up and crash (or throw a spinning beach ball). But thanks to HTML 5′s “web workers” background processing capabilities, the browser barely stuttered while the app was running. The crowd of 4,000 attendees applauded wildly at this.

We saw a Doom-style first-person shooter game rendered entirely using JavaScript and HTML 5′s canvas vector graphics engine. Gundotra also showed off a canvas-powered analytics tool with 2D graphs you can zoom in on and resize on the fly, and a 3D animated demo of a beach scene, complete with crashing waves, flickering torches and palm trees blowing in the breeze, all rendered in JavaScript and HTML 5.

Gundotra’s demos concentrated on the “five components of HTML 5 Google is most excited about”: canvas, video, web workers, geolocation, app cache and database access.

The latest versions of the mobile Android browser and the soon-to-be-released Mobile Safari browser on the iPhone will both support some HTML 5 elements, so of course there were some mobile demos at the I/O keynote, as well. The team showed a Gmail user checking his e-mail in the browser while disconnected from the internet (utilizing HTML 5′s support for offline data access) and an iPhone user updating his location in Google Latitude running in the browser (the new iPhone software, due in June, supports geolocation via HTML 5).

It’s exciting to see Google betting the bank on HTML 5, but not entirely surprising. The company is in the web app business, so any technology that makes web apps faster, better and more useful is going to be supported — even more so if that technology is based on open standards and doesn’t require plug-ins or proprietary code like Flash and Silverlight.

Wednesday’s keynote wasn’t all cheerleading. Several digs were aimed at Microsoft for failing to support much of HTML 5 in the latest version of Internet Explorer. IE8 does have experimental geolocation support, but no support for HTML 5 video playback, canvas, or web workers.

Microsoft is quick to argue that it isn’t prudent to build support for untested technologies into its browser code, which is used by the majority of people on the web. Probably closer to the truth: Microsoft has its own playback technology in Silverlight and isn’t interested in sinking its own ship.

Microsoft has pledged support for HTML 5, but warns that it’s still a long way off. But as Gundotra’s keynote illustrates, HTML 5 is just about all grown up, and everyone else is choosing to innovate and put the latest capabilities through the paces right now.

After Wednesday’s coming-out party, maybe Microsoft will change its tune.

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