HTML5: Winning Developer Hearts and Minds--but With Some Holdouts

HTML5 and JavaScript are pushing the Web forward and winning over a lot of developers in the process. However, some say tooling could be better.

The emergence of HTML5, JavaScript and CSS—core Web development technologies—has taken the industry by storm, with major players moving to make the technologies part of their primary tool chains.

Microsoft, for example, has made HTML5 and JavaScript key to application development on Windows 8 and the Internet Explorer (IE) browser. Even more significantly, it has built the technology into its vaunted Visual Studio flagship integrated development environment.

"One thing you have to understand is when Microsoft includes something in its tool chain, it's usually already been adopted by a large cross-section of developers, and Microsoft is moving to carry it forward," said Anthony Franco, president of EffectiveUI, a Denver-based UI design and application development shop that is a very active user of HTML5.

HTML5, the fifth revision of the HTML standard, is a markup language for structuring and presenting Web content and a core technology of the Internet. It is sought after because it enables developers to create apps that run on multiple platforms without the need for changes to suit each individual platform. Under ideal conditions, that is.

"The main differentiator of HTML5 is that it's very simple to support multiple platforms," Christian Heilmann, principal developer evangelist at Mozilla, told eWEEK. "When you go the native route, you have to build an application—and build it bespokely—for all the different platforms. There's no such thing as saying that I'll write a Java app and then I can render it out to a Mac and on iOS and to a Windows phone and to an Android phone and to tablets and to the Web desktop as well," Heilmann said.

"With HTML5 you can do all of that. With HTML5 what we did is we took the Web technologies of the past, that were there for putting documents on the Web, and enhanced them for real application development—with offline functionalities, with multimedia support, with messaging back and forth, and with accessing the hardware directly from the Web technologies we know already from what we've built on the Web over the last several years," he said.

Indeed, as part of his key developer predictions for 2013, IDC analyst Al Hilwa said, "Enlightened coexistence between Web and native device application platforms will prevail; native deployed applications will remain dominant; Web platform (HTML5) technologies will make significant inroads."

In his report, Hilwa added: "We are predicting a bright future for Web technologies, which may someday infuse the majority of mobile applications. To start with, many Web technologies will be supported in a variety of development tools that generate installable native apps. These apps, known as hybrid apps, may be written mostly in HTML and JavaScript, utilizing browser components available on the native platform, and then bundled into 'native' applications distributed on application stores. PhoneGap, which was contributed by Adobe to the Apache Cordova project, is one of the most widely used examples of this approach."

Hilwa said the advantage of the pure Web approach is that it enables a great deal of code reuse across device platforms and the ability to distribute applications without going through application stores. Moreover, in most cases, application builders will choose to leverage Web technology because of the ever-expanding ecosystem of Web skills in the developer populations, he said.