What is HTML5?

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Although HTML5 won’t be completed and fully standardized until 2014, the digital industry has been paving the way for it over the past couple years.

HTML5 is the newest iteration of Hypertext Markup Language, the back-end coding system that dictates how Web pages should appear. (For a detailed breakdown, check out How HTML5 Works). Most desktop Web browsers – Internet Explorer 9, Mozilla Firefox 6.0, Google Chrome 13.0.782, etc. — now support HTML5, and some sites, such as PowerPoint presentation repository SlideShare, have fully converted to HTML5.

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The initial version of HTML5 released by the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group in 2008, comes with far more bells and whistles than its exclusively document coding predecessor, spawned in 1989.

These new enhancements translate to more than 25 upgrades that allow HTML5 to move far beyond text and hyperlinks to streamline all Web page elements, including directly embedding graphics and multimedia. Along with the help of cloud computing, these changes should transform the Internet into a faster, leaner environment.

Open source developers are certainly heralding the arrival of HTML5 since the platform is a free admission playground. Non-technophiles might not be as enthused about the technicalities, but that doesn’t mean they won’t benefit from the changes. 

For an idea of how end users may experience HTML5, here’s a rundown of how some Web and mobile leaders are integrating and anticipating the growth of HTML5 across the digital landscape:

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Facebook:  In January, Facebook CTO Bret Taylor said at a conference, “…Over the long term, people in Silicon Valley really view HTML5 as the future platform we will all be building to, and that’s where we’re putting a huge amount of our investment in the next year.”

Rumors also have swirled about whether Facebook will unveil an HTML5 app store — nicknamed Project Spartan — for developers to build HTML5 apps for use within the Facebook platform.

Google: The search engine behemoth debuted its first HTML5-coded homepage doodle in July, soon after it launched Swiffy, a tool that converts Flash files to HTML5. YouTube has also supported HTML5 coded video since January 2010.

Apple: Apple has remained steadfast in its refusal to allow proprietary Adobe Flash, the Web’s primary video platform, on its devices. The advent of HTML5, with its native video and audio embedding, has provided an open source work-around, as Steve Jobs predicted on the Apple blog in 2010:

“New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too).”

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Apple users will become well acquainted with HTML5, since the company’s stable of mobile devices and Web browsers now fully support it.

Probably the most noticeable HTML5 breakthrough yet to come for the average end user is improved mobile functionality. Broader HTML5 adoption means that Web sites can streamline their multimedia and interactive content across devices, including smart phones, e-readers, tablet computers and laptops.

That doesn't mean end users will suddenly discover a shiny, unfamiliar Internet one day; the HTML5 standardization process is occurring gradually with some implementation already in place.

That capability may transform mobile devices, which will likely become even smarter, faster machines as HTML5 reduces the bandwidth required for mobile Web browsing and the need to run separate apps (as opposed to going directly to a site).

In that case, whether the wired public realizes it or not, they’re probably already rooting for HTML5.

Credit: Steve Allen/Getty Images