Microsoft's Internet Explorer 9 Beta is on its way in less than a month from now on September 15th. Industry commentators suggest that the release of Microsoft's newest browser will send out a few shockwaves because HTML, the underpinning technology of the modern web, is also on the brink of its next change as we move to HTML 5.
According to James Pratt writing on Microsoft's official Internet Explorer blog, "Developers are already working hard on some amazing new web experiences enabled by Internet Explorer 9. On September 15th we'll be able to show you a more beautiful web that feels native on Windows."
Meanwhile, Erik Huggers who is director of future media & technology at the BBC has written an acerbic blog suggesting that HTML 5 development is off course saying that, "The fact is that there's still a lot of work to be done on HTML5 before we can integrate it fully into our products. As things stand I have concerns about HTML5's ability to deliver on the vision of a single open browser standard which goes beyond the whole debate around video playback."
At the same time, Paul Dawson who is the 'experience director' at EMC Consulting has said that, "HTML 5 offers a wide variety of multimedia and interactivity capabilities directly in the browser which would previously only have been achievable using browser plug-ins such as Flash and Silverlight. As these capabilities increase, there will certainly be less of a reliance on the use of plug-in technologies."
Dawson continues, "However, aside from the penetration of HTML 5 browsers themselves, there are two factors which we think limit the extent to which browser plug-ins will ever disappear entirely:
Richness and access to richness
Plug-ins offer richness in some areas today which are either impossible or - and this is important - much more difficult to achieve in HTML 5. Developers may prefer the open standards of HTML 5, but not if it doubles or triples development times. This is true for both scripting and audio visual awesomeness (the phrase we're using today to avoid saying 'multimedia'): richer interfaces, stable complex client-side scripting, platform independent interface and script development, 3D (or fake 3D), sound and video. The effect is emphasised by the relative scarcity of toolkits, code libraries and IDEs, as well as the continued inconsistency of HTML 5 implementations, some current weaknesses in the canvas object and the often greater size of equivalent payloads to achieve the same effects.
There are some things that HTML 5 just can't do. The most obvious examples of this are hardware integration - today webcams, microphones and enhanced multi-touch support, but there are several future use cases around rich input from peripheral devices. Think also of issues around security and sandboxing and the need for the use of plug-ins (if not necessarily Flash, Silverlight or the Java Runtime) remains.
The final point to make is that even if neither Flash nor Silverlight ever graced another browser, both technologies would be far from redundant. Flash is the baby-brother of Flex, and Silverlight is being widely used today in the development of applications for other platforms, most significantly Windows Phone 7," concluded Dawson.
The impending arrival of Internet Explorer 9 and HTML 5 is exciting news and it is certainly likely to shake a few things up. Whether it will move us towards a more unified platform of open web standards is, I'm afraid to say, anybody's guess.