The man credited with founding the world wide web is both excited and cautious about its future.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the British physicist who first designed the way web servers deliver pages to web browsers nearly 19 years ago, sees great promise in HTML5, the much-anticipated rewrite of the language used to build web pages.
“I think (HTML5) is great,” he said at the Worldwide Web Consortium’s (W3C) annual member gathering, taking place here this week.
HTML5 is a mixture of several different technologies that allow content creators to do more with web pages. It defines rules for presenting video, audio, mathematical equations, complex layouts, 2-D animations and non-standard typefaces. Each bit of technology has its own working group within the W3C chartered with developing that one component.
“We’ve had the pieces for a while,” he says. “Seeing all these things finally coming together is exciting, and it multiplies the power of each one,” Berners-Lee says.
HTML5 also enhances the way browsers can store and process data, which has led to the creation of more complex and rich web applications that run in the browser like Gmail, Facebook and apps that allow real-time data sharing, like Google Wave.
“Yes, this is a markup language for web pages,” he says, “but the really big shift that’s happening here — and, you could argue, what’s actually driving the fancy features — is the shift to the web becoming a client-side computing platform.”
The HTML5 specification is close to completion. The most recent releases of browsers like Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Opera all support most of the technologies being rolled in to HTML5. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer supports fewer of HTML5′s advancements, but it’s catching up. HTML5 is expected to become an official recommendation by late 2010 or 2011.
Now that the web has been elevated to a more powerful computing platform by HTML5, Berners-Lee says it has also given rise to complicated security issues.
“You got a piece of code from site A, and you’re person B running a browser you got from company C, and that code wants to access data stored with company E for the purposes of printing it on a printer owned by company D — How do you build that so that it’s not susceptible to all kinds of nasty attacks?”
“The technology is very exciting, but there’s actually a lot of work to do in these corridors to make it work on the real web in a secure way.”