File Under: Browsers, HTML5

Microsoft Ups HTML5 Support With New HTML5 Labs Site

Microsoft's new HTML5 Labs experiment

Internet Explorer 9 will be Microsoft’s most standards-compliant browser to date. But it still lags behind the rest of the pack when it comes to supporting the latest and greatest elements of HTML5 and CSS 3.

To address that shortcoming, Microsoft has launched a new HTML5 Labs site to give interested web developers a way to “preview” HTML5 features that won’t be supported in Internet Explorer 9, but could make it into future updates.

HTML5 is still incomplete — the spec changes and evolves on a daily basis, and a few key issues are still undecided. While the more cutting edge web browsers like Firefox, Opera and Google Chrome have opted to support portions of the HTML5 spec that are still very much in flux, Microsoft is taking a more conservative approach, shipping what it calls “mainstream browser” features and skipping the more experimental parts of HTML5.

In a recent blog post, Microsoft’s VP for Internet Explorer, Dean Hachamovitch, attempted to draw a line between the “prototype implementations” of HTML5 and those features that are “mainstream browser product[s].” While the distinction is Microsoft’s own, and for the most part totally arbitrary since the entire HTML5 spec is technically unfinished, on a practical level, Hachamovitch is right — some HTML5 features are more equal than others.

Curiously, one of the two that Microsoft has thus far included in its new HTML5 Labs is WebSockets. Firefox and Opera recently disabled WebSockets due to a security flaw. There’s a way to fix the flaw, but it will require rewriting some of the WebSockets spec.

Concerns about immature specs are precisely the reason Microsoft is taking a conservative approach to HTML5 in IE9. But to then turn around and offer a “labs” version of Web Sockets — which is absolutely guaranteed to change — seems like strange move on Microsoft’s part. After all, why would developers want to even experiment with something that is not only going to change, but is also vulnerable to attack in its current form?

The other experimental feature in Microsoft’s HTML5 Labs makes more sense — support for IndexedDB. IndexedDB is a draft spec that outlines a method of storing large amounts of data in the browser. Primarily intended for offline web apps, IndexedDB sidesteps some of the problems with current SQL-based offline storage tools and is much easier to work with when you’re using JavaScript.

If you’d like to experiment with Internet Explorer’s take on WebSockets and IndexedDB, head over to the new HTML5 Labs page and follow the installation instructions. While the process of adding these features to IE9 is a little convoluted, it does give you a way to test your apps in IE, which means that when these features finally do make it into an update, your apps will be ready to go.

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