Since mid-2010, I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about HTML5.  As a web developer, the rate of adoption of the HTML5 standards has me excited for the future of web development.  However, if you’re not a computer nerd, why is HTML5 something to be excited about? What does it mean for your company?

HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language.  In English, this means that HTML is used to organize content.  In previous iterations of HTML, this content was pretty much limited to text and static images.  HTML5 introduces support for 2D drawing, media playback, geolocation, offline web application development, data storage, and other goodies that transform the language into a formidable base for application development.  When people talk about HTML5, closely related technologies like CSS3 and Javascript are usually implicitly included.  CSS3 tells the browser how to present the information specified by the HTML document graphically in the browser viewport, and Javascript provides client-side interactive functionality, which has gotten more powerful with the introduction of popular libraries like jQuery.  Together with server-side languages like PHP and ASP,  these technologies power everything you do on the web.

In short, HTML5 gives developers the power to design applications using the same building blocks they use to design websites.  These platform-agnostic applications are the future of computing.  You can view a webpage from your PC, from your Mac, from your tablet, and from your phone.  As long as your device has a browser, you can view a webpage.  With the introduction of modern browsers like Google Chrome, freeware which updates itself in the background and adheres to HTML5 standards, there’s no need to worry about supporting intranet applications on woefully outdated browsers like Internet Explorer 6.  If you can view a webpage, you can run an application written in HTML5.

Why are web applications so exciting?  Web applications are run on the server that hosts the webpage – all the user must do to access the application is navigate to the URL of the website.  For the purpose of familiarity, let’s use Facebook, one of the more successful web applications, as an example (others include G-Mail, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Basecamp).  Web applications are never installed on the local computer, the local computer simply connects and interacts with the host.  This provides many benefits instantly.  There is no need for complex deployment procedures in large corporations.  Client computers can be incorporated into the operation seamlessly.  Updates are entirely seamless.  Developers just need to worry about the files located on the server.  Computers connected to the application will automatically be served the latest version of the software, eliminating the headache of company-wide updates and the unforeseen bugs that come with running the software natively on a wide variety of machines.  When you connect to Facebook, you’ll sometimes find that things have changed.  They didn’t have to send you a Facebook version 2.01 installation disc, it just seemingly happens on its own.  Since most of the computational work is done on the server-side of the operation, web applications can be accessed on under-powered devices like smartphones and tablets with no problems.

Imagine a world where there is no legacy versions of in-house software from the 80’s floating around on a few machines (which still require costly updates).  The long-term cost of keeping legacy software around far outweighs the cost of development of new, standards compliant web software, which is much more efficiently maintained and updated.  Not only that, but with the increase in ‘Bring Your Own Device’ culture in corporate setting, your IT will no longer have the excuse of, “Sorry, we’re still running Windows 98, so your iPad is useless with our business applications”.  Got a browser?  Then you’ve got a workstation.  Because developers only have to worry about making their applications comply with modern browser standards, web applications are going to have less bugs than their desktop relatives who have to account for rare corner cases involving the near-limitless hardware and operating system combinations they would face when run natively.  There’s no need to have operating system experts on staff to troubleshoot installation problems and handle company-wide distribution.

Change is scary, but with Microsoft’s announcement that Windows XP will be facing end-of-life in 2014, companies are going to have to make some hard decisions about updating their aging in-house systems.  Why not make that decision as future-proof as possible?  The web isn’t going away.  Moving applications to the web is a future-facing solution.