HTML 5 – Replay of Browser Wars

Once upon a time there was a web browser called Netscape Navigator… The early days of the Internet!

Once upon a time there was a web browser called Netscape Navigator… The early days of the Internet! Those were the days with where people still used Windows 95, 98 and computer monitors with 800 X 600 screen resolution, among other unimaginable things today.

Some people would remember what Netscape Navigator was and what happened after that with Internet Explorer. The stuff competitive case studies and anti-trust stories are made of. We often meet people who never heard of Netscape. Ah! Youth!

For those developers who remember it, it was a time of confusion. For those who have never heard of Netscape – a quick history lesson. It was the first Internet Browser. It was a paid software (yes – browsers did not come free) till Internet Explorer was bundled free with Windows Operating System (wonder why people complained about Microsoft if they gave it away for free!). People were upset that Microsoft muscled in on Netscape by using its Windows dominance to shut Netscape out and Microsoft was forced to give options to users to add Netscape Navigator as well. That is the story of the original browser wars in brief – really brief. It makes for very interesting reading even today for geeks.

At its peak, developers will remember having to test your HTML output on both IE and Netscape and wonder which way to look. Developers and decision makers were looking at computer adoption rates and browser market share figures for both browsers and trying to place its bets. We had to create HTML which had to be ‘cross browser compatible’. Clients insisted it must work on both in the same way and developers often wondered how. Some developers gave up and took the easy way out and said – Best viewed on Internet Explorer at X resolution and some said, we will be able to do a limited set of things if you insist on both browsers.

A few years later Netscape was relegated to history and nostalgia, Flash was the king and HTML was stable for a long long time. Internet Explorer 6. Then came Firebox and Chrome and still things were nice and fine. Yes, there were some issues but by then developers had learnt to deal with HTML and cross browser stuff and Flash was something that took care of more complicated things.

Enter – Apple iPhone in 2007 and Steve Jobs announcement that Flash was no longer relevant. 4 years from then and we are now looking at a replay of the 1990s and early 2000s with Internet Explorer and Netscape and a few more dozen other permutations and combinations. Steve Jobs said – ‘and HTML 5 it is’. And so it was done. Or at least the world is trying to do.

Some clients are talking about HTML 5 and how we must build courses in this for the future. The more tech savvy clients realize the dilemma we face with HTML 5. Here you have:

  1. Multiple devices including PC/Mac, tablets, mobile phones etc.
  2. Each of these devices with various operating system and with their default browsers and other browsers you can add on.
  3. Each of these browsers has different versions on different operating systems and some people upgrade their browsers faster than others so you have to support older versions as well.
  4. Each browser version on these operating systems have different degrees of support for HTML 4 and HTML 5.
  5. And to top it off, HTML 5 is a moving target since it is not a fully evolved standard

The tech-giants are battling for dominance of devices, operating systems, browsers, market share and mind space of users and developers.

For developers it is the ultimate nightmare of having hear your clients say – must work on all devices and browsers.

So with HTML 5, we are having another round of browser wars on multiple devices or at least the complications that came with it for developers including having to now run HTML5 on a variety of browsers with very little in common in terms of support for HTML 5.The truth is – browsers are not ready for HTML 5 and HTML 5 is not fully ready for browsers. But we have a promising technology in HTML 5 and it is important to keep our heads on our shoulders and feet grounded till the tech-giants battle it out, things shake up and some sort of standard emerges. Let us not forget computing history and the lessons learnt from the earlier Browser Wars.

Our take is – the standard will keep on evolving and we will see stability once a killer authoring tool for HTML 5 (probably from Adobe itself or Apple or Google) emerges which will then bring developers on board and then we will see things settle down in terms of how things should work in HTML 5.

As long as you keep expectations real, HTML 5 is not a problem. Good sensible vendors will tell clients the truth that they should expect some uncertainty with HTML 5 for some time to come and therefore they must hang on before betting the bank on current state of HTML 5. Wait a while and things will become clearer. Maybe as close as the end of 2012. We hope!

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