Birmingham Open Source Solutions

Why use HTML5?

This site is built using HTML5 markup, rather than the XHTML or HTML4 standards. This is a deliberate design decision, not (just!) based on wanting to use the latest shiny technology, but because there are several advantages to using it. HTML5 is usually used in conjuction with two other browser technologies - CSS (for styling the pages) and JavaScript (to provide interactivity and advanced features). As a result, "HTML5" tends be be used as a shorthand for the HTML5/CSS3/JavaScript combination of technologies.

Advantages of HTML5

Forward compatibility

One of the biggest advantages of using HTML5 now is that, as the next standard for web development, it provides a certain amount of future-proofing. Previous HTML specifications have allowed a certain amount of interpretation, which has resulted in inconsistencies between browsers; the results of which range from minor display issues to serious impact in functionality. The HTML5 specification seeks to remove these inconsistencies by having clear instruction on how browsers should handle pages, which should result in a better experience for users, and easier development and testing for programmers.

Sites built using HTML5 should be more stable, both on today's browsers and future versions, and are increasingly supported by mobile phones and tablets, thus removing the need for building alternative websites using older mobile-specific technologies.

Backwards compatibility

As HTML5 is based largely on HTML4, it's also backwards compatible with older browsers - although a notable exception is even quite recent versions of Microsoft's Internet Explorer (a workaround for which is freely available, bringing harmony to the web). Following the HTML5 best practices of semantic markup and separation of styling, HTML5 pages can easily support text-only and specialist browsers such as screen readers and braille devices, greatly improving accessibility.

Progressive enhancement

Traditionally, the approach taken by site builders was "graceful degradation" - sites were built to always display their best features, but in the event of browser incompatibility, to fail gracefully and display what they could.

With maturing web technology standards and improvements to web browser technology (particularly with the work done to improve JavaScript interpreter performance) the trend has shifted to "progressive enhancement" - sites are now built to offer a basic level of service, but to enhance the pages if the browser is capable. This provides the best possible experience for website visitors, based on their browser capabilities, while still supporting older browsers and those that may only have partial support for new technologies.

But HTML5 isn't a standard yet!

Although the HTML5 (and the corresponding CSS3) standard hasn't been ratified yet, web browsers are increasingly supporting the new features based on the current revisions. The core parts of HTML5 are considered pretty stable now, and are only waiting for the final "rubber stamping" - any edge cases discovered now will be measured against the current implementation to define the behaviour without breaking existing sites.

As a result, it is generally considered to be safe to use these new technologies, based on the assumption that there will be few changes made before the final ratification of the standards, and that any changes will (if possible) be minor or easily handled.