Yesterday I attended the Stockholm Web Monkeys’ spring 2011 meetup in Stockholm, and I gave a short presentation and led a discussion about HTML5 – What’s good, what’s missing, web browser implementation takes.
To begin with, I gave a short talk about HTML5, the current web browser state and my takes:
To summarize, a lot of exciting things are, and have been, happening with HTML5, and for the future I think one of the most interesting things is to see how the Device API will turn out and truly empower developers building open web-based things for mobile devices. Internet Explorer 9 is a great leap forward for Microsoft compared to previous versions, but it still lacks some of the things available in the other major web browsers. Some worry was also expressed about IE release cycle time and that if it’s behind now, imagine how long time until we will get the next version.
Biggest obstacle: web browser update rate of users
After my introduction I thought I’d get a lot of feedback on current web browser implementations of HTML5 features, performance, missing APIs etc. And sure, there were some talk confirming my thoughts on things missing in IE9, but the majority of opinions and worry was mostly about the update rate (or lack thereof) of web browsers amongst end users. Everyone seemed to agree that HTML5 is great, it offers amazing possibilities and in some time, when minor differences have been worked out, it will be a fantastic opportunity to build things for the web – no matter if it’s on desktop computers, mobiles or other types of devices.
The questions/thoughts were more about having a wonderful tool set with HTML5, but not being able to use it because of the market share of older web browsers. You could potentially target older web browser through the help of polyfills, depending on what you want to use, but we also discussed if that created a user experience good enough (due to all scripts and workarounds to make things work in web browsers that are already slow to begin with).
A common consensus seemed to be that most end users have no idea which version their web browser have, and most of the time, don’t even know which web browser they use at all, or what a web browser actually is.
We discussed the pros and cons of automatic web browser updates, where the pros naturally are always having the latest version and removing the risk of people not upgrading, but the cons are about respecting the end user’s free choice and awareness of upgrading, and also about backwards compatibility. Having an automatic update breaking old functionality, especially for business-dependent web sites, is a major risk.
We covered the topic of having version-less web browsers (connected with automatic updating then) since no one knows the version the web browser is anyway. And with the incremental speed of the version number in Google Chrome, it seems to somewhat kill the point of versioning.
Another point of view brought up was if we can start asking/requiring of end users to have the latest most modern web browsers to experience a web site (I also discused this with Yoav Weiss on Twitter yesterday, and he wrote about it in Putting IE to sleep)? Personally, I think web content is there for everyone to take part of, but the vital thing is that they can read the content and perform the actions on a web site. In some cases it could work with a respectful and subtle notification to the end users that there will be more features available if they upgrade.
We also touched on the topic whether a web site/experience should aim to be the same for all end users, or if it’s possible, both technically and financially, to have multiple versions of everything we build.
It got late and people were tired, but when trying to push people for missing features, an idea came up about having P2P support and APIs directly in a web page. However, much more emphasis, and trouble, seemed to come from all the old web browser versions and (lack of) functionality to support. It seems like the current state of HTML5 is sufficient for so many use cases, that getting people to upgrade their web browsers and being able to use these opportunities by default is much more important to just keep on adding more and more things.
What are your thoughts?
What I’m really curious about is what you think about this? Do you also think we have the same problems with web browser update rate of end users, and if yes, do you have any good suggestions how to tackle that? Also, when it comes to HTML5, what are the potential things you are missing?