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Microsoft Opens HTML5 Labs for Developers

Microsoft today opened a test site for Web developers that shows off promising yet unstable HTML 5 code.

The new site, called "HTML5 Labs," provides prototype code deemed by Microsoft to be useful but not ready for deployment. Microsoft's Interoperability Labs team uploads the code with the aim of getting developer feedback. The code is based on specifications still under development by organizations such as the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C), ECMA and the Internet Engineering Task Force.

"With this approach, we make it easier to take advantage of the capabilities that are stable and ready for prime time," explained Dean Hachamovitch, Microsoft's vice president of Internet Explorer, in a blog post. "We remove much of the guess work for developers of working with a moving target. The result is more time for site developers to innovate and create better Web experiences."

The HTML 5 spec currently has reached the Working Draft stage, with some parts of it being more ready for implementation than others. Even though the spec isn't ratified, most browser makers have plunged ahead. For instance, HTML 5 will enable native browser support for video and two-dimensional graphics using simple HTML markup rather than relying on browser plug-ins such as Silverlight and Flash. Browser makers are already showing off this capability, and more, in demos. Still, determining what's viable in the HTML 5 spec is a potentially confusing situation for Web developers. HTML5 Labs will point developers working with Internet Explorer 9 toward the more experimental side of the code, according to Hachamovitch.

"In the IE9 product, developers can expect site-ready HTML5 so they can take advantage of the best of HTML5 that is ready and can still experiment with emerging HTML5 with HTML5 Labs," Hachamovitch stated in the blog.

HTML5 Labs currently offers two prototypes: WebSockets extension for IE and IndexedDB for IE. WebSockets is designed to enable "bi-directional, full-duplex communications" between a client and server via "a single Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) socket," according to a blog post by Jean Paoli, Microsoft's general manager of interoperability strategy. IndexedDB aims at enabling the storage of "large amounts of structured data in the browser," accessible both online and offline.

WebSockets was excluded from the Firefox and Opera browsers because of "security and compatibility concerns," according to Hachamovitch. However, it's still implemented in Apple's iPhone and iPad 4.2, he noted in his blog post. The controversy surrounding WebSockets, which went through 60 drafts, is part of the reason why Microsoft created the HTML5 Labs test site.

Philippe Le Hegaret, interaction domain leader at the W3C, noted in October that some of the HTML 5 spec shouldn't be used because of interoperability problems.

"The problem we’re facing right now is there is already a lot of excitement for HTML5, but it’s a little too early to deploy it because we’re running into interoperability issues," Le Hegaret said at that time.

Microsoft, in rolling out its HTML5 Labs site, essentially agrees with Le Hegaret's position, according to Paoli.

"We are in complete alignment between Philippe and Art; it's more [about] the articulation," Paoli said in a phone interview. "He [Philippe] actually wrote a blog after that explaining what he really meant. What we are saying is the same thing. We're saying that every feature in HTML 5 -- and there are many of them -- every single one of them is not at the same level of stability."

It could be as long as 12 more years before W3C Recommendation status is reached for the entire HTML 5 spec, but browser makers have already made parts of it practical to use through interoperability testing. Hachamovitch has described Microsoft's position with HTML 5 as "write once, run anywhere." If that goal is achieved, it will be a big change from the days when Web developers suffered with having to code for IE 6's quirks, causing perpetual rewrites.

The HTML 5 spec is actually progressing, according to a comment by Giorgio Sardo, a Microsoft senior technical evangelist.

"HTML5 made lot of progress in recent months, [with] the HTML5 specification expected to go to Last Call (kind of feature complete) in the first 2-3 months of 2011," Sardo wrote in a November blog post. "From there, the spec will move to Candidate Recommendation and there will be a call for implementers."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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