Can the BBC afford to take their eyes of HTML5?


You sometimes read an opinion that stands out and stops you in your tracks – and the below sentiment from a senior BBC executive about the next major revision of the HTML standard left me stunned.

 “I have concerns about HTML5’s ability to deliver on the vision of a single open browser standard which goes beyond the whole debate around video playback,” says the BBC’s future media and technology director Erik Huggers (see further reading, below).

 That viewpoint takes a negative approach to a fast-developing and – most importantly – open standard. The World Web Web Consortium (W3C) recently released the latest HTML5 draft specification, which will include native video support and will reduce the need for additional plug-ins and enhancements.

 It is a crucial step forwards. Providers currently take a disparate approach to web development, using a varied sample of codes, styles and plug-ins to produce the user interface. Such fragmentation often produces a disappointing web experience, with users aware that different browsers have different capabilities.

 HTML5 could be the start of something different. The standard already boasts some big backers and impressive features. Take Apple’s Steve Jobs, who is a passionate advocate and refers to HTML5 as the new web standard (see further reading).

 Microsoft, meanwhile, recently performed W3C Web Standards tests on the forthcoming Internet Explorer 9 (see further reading). For its part, Google has been using HTML5 to enhance the web-based version of Gmail and has even coded a Gmail-themed ‘shoot-em-up’ in HTML5 (see further reading).

 Most of the IT world, therefore, is preparing itself for an inevitable switch to HTML5. Apart from, it would seem, the BBC. Is the organisation right or wrong?

 Criticism of the BBC centres on the suggestion that its support of Flash belies broader support of open standards. Huggers suggests the organisation’s use of Flash is not a case of BBC favouritism and is the best way to deliver high quality video experience to the broadest possible audience. 

 More specifically, Huggers believes there is still a lot of work to be done on HTML5 before the BBC can integrate it fully into its products. But while work does need to be done, progress is remarkable.

 I believe Huggers is wrong to suggest that HTML5 progress is sailing off course and slowing. Backers are lining up to support the standard and, as stated above, the latest revisions to HTML5 have only just been released.

 The bandwagon for HTML5 has started to roll. Organisations either jump on now or get left behind. Way too many people want open standards-based solutions for HTML5 not to be a success. The BBC should not let its current requirements for video playback distract its attention away from the fast pace of web development.

Further reading:

 http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/2010/08/html5_open_standards_and_the_b.html

 http://www.neowin.net/news/internet-explorer-9-beta-due-on-september-15

 http://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughts-on-flash/

 http://gmailblog.blogspot.com/2010/08/galactic-inbox-html5-game-inspired-by.html

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