We're starting to see more and more applications come out that take advantage of the HTML5 standard now supported by all the major browsers, but more work must be done to get all browsers in sync with its features.
For example, Salesforce.com -- which already has native, downloadable apps for the major mobile devices -- is currently working on browser-based HTML5 alternatives that require no downloads. Microsoft is reported to be working on an HTML5 version of Skype. SAP has become a big advocate for HTML5 in the mobile space, with a series of partnership announcements with HTML5 vendors.
One company that serves as an example of the benefits of HTML5 conversion is Ericom Software Inc., a New Jersey-based vendor of virtual desktops, whose CEO, Eran Heyman, spoke with me recently and described his firm's experience.
Ericom already had standard, native clients available for all major platforms. But over the past year, it has been offering and expanding the browser-based, HTML5 version of its software. The reason? HTML5 offers almost all the interactivity and graphics capabilities of traditional desktop software, capabilities that had previously only been available on the Web through Flash.
For Ericom, or for any corporation that distributes software to its employees or customers, HTML5 offers the following benefits:
- No downloads required. Typically, users or IT staffers install software on desktops, laptops, and any other devices. This "native client" software runs faster than browser-based applications. As a result, some software, like video editing or CAD-CAM applications, will probably remain on the desktop for the foreseeable future. But with HTML5 and improved connectivity, more and more applications will run in the browser without any discernible difference. And when it comes to software, all the company has to do is point the employee to a URL -- there's nothing to install or upgrade.
- Easier integration. Heyman told me that integrating Web-based applications is an order of magnitude easier than integrating native applications. "What can take days with native clients can take just minutes with the Web clients." And it's easy to embed the browser-based software into corporate portals by adding a link or a frame.
- Easier networking. SSL VPNs -- secure virtual private networks based on the Secure Sockets Layer protocol -- can be used with both native clients and Web-based software. But opening communication tunnels to multiple types of devices can be tricky and can require support. Web access, however, is easy and automatic. Similarly, Web traffic can be easily routed through networking and security interfaces and network proxies.
- Device independence. HTML5 applications run on all major browsers and mobile devices. As new devices and operating systems appear, they will also support HTML5. Companies that rely on HTML5 for their applications will not have to worry about writing new clients for every new device that their employees or customers use.
One big problem with HTML5 development, however, and which may be hindering the technology's adoption in some firms, is the fact that each browser is implementing HTML5 in pieces, and at different rates.
Similarly, HTML5's WebGL feature is great at displaying 3D graphics but is not yet supported by Internet Explorer. In addition, WebGL requires that users have up-to-date video drivers, which may not be the case with many older corporate machines. So if your company plans on embedding interactive 3D charts into its Web applications, you should wait awhile and stick with 2D charts instead. There's plenty that you can do with perspective, shadows, and other graphical effects to spice up otherwise flat charts and graphs.
There is a useful link here that will help you find out which HTML5 features you can use now, based on your browser.
Enterprises developing applications for internal use will have an easier time deploying HTML5 apps, since they know which browsers their employees are using and can stick to features that are already supported.
--Maria Korolov is president of Trombly International, an editorial services company that provides coverage of emerging technologies and markets. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years.