Geek 101: HTML5, CSS3 and you

HTML5 and CSS3 will let Web developers do more with their sites. Here's what you need to know about these new technologies.

HTML is the standard language used to build Web pages. It isn't going anywhere, but some new technologies--such as HTML5 and CSS3--are already changing how you interact with Web sites. Here's what these technologies are, what they can do, and why you should care.

HTML and CSS: The Basics

In the early days of the Internet, your tools for building a Web site were HTML and little else. But trying to design a site with nothing more than HTML can be tedious and limiting. This is where CSS comes in.

Cascading Style Sheets, also known as CSS, are files that tell the Web browser how to display an HTML page. Basically, the HTML page serves as the skeleton--the basic framework of a Web page--while the CSS document specifies how the specific elements of a page should look. CSS lets you control the fonts, font colors, background styles, and so forth, of an HTML page.

CSS makes it easier to design and build a Web site. Before CSS, you had to use HTML to specify how all individual headers and components of a page looked and acted. While there were ways around this, HTML was often misused and the web developer would have to go in and individually change every page element on every page. CSS made it drastically less complex and less time consuming to change the styles on a Web page; you could make the change to one document and apply the change across your entire site.

What's Next: HTML5 and CSS3

HTML5 and CSS3 are the latest of markup programming. HTML5's video element--which simplifies adding video to a Web page--has been getting all the attention, but HTML5 has many features that will put it ahead of the game and make it great for users and Web developers alike.

Flash-free Video and Animation

HTML5 will allow you to watch videos without using a plugin like Flash or Silverlight. .

So what's the big deal with the new video feature of HTML5? Well for one, it's free to use and doesn't require the Adobe Flash plugin. Second, Flash can slow down their computer (though the hardware-accelerated Flash 10.1--now in beta--should help matters); it's one more piece of software running and eating up system resources, after all. With HTML5, the video feature is built right in.

This new video feature of course will be of great help to Apple iPhone users, because Apple pretty much refuses to let any of its control over the iPhones be turned over to another application (this type of control is normally known as an absolute monarchy). But hopefully HTML5 will be beneficial to Blackberry phones as well, most of which are not able to support flash. In fact, Apple's pushing HTML5 video so much that they have a page highlighting so-called "iPad-ready" Web sites.

One important thing to note about HTML5 video is that it's still in flux. For example, Safari, Chrome, and the upcoming Internet Exporer 9 will support embedded HTML5 video that uses the H.264 format. Firefox, on the other hand, only currently supports HTML5 video that uses the Ogg Vorbis format; the folks behind Firefox claim that H.264's closed-source nature could cause problems with licensing in the future, so it may be a little while before the dust settles here.

Also, HTML5 and CSS3 will make it easier for Web designers to create animations and interactive games without a single bit of Flash. For some great examples of what you can do with HTML5, CSS3, and a little help from JavaScript, see Akihabra Games and this animated Star Wars AT-AT Walker. Design Shack has several other CSS3 animation examples too.

It isn't going to entirely replace Flash just yet, but there's tons of promise for HTML5 and CSS3 on this front.

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James Mulroy

PC World (US online)
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