REVIEW

Book Review: HTML 5 - Up And Running

August 19, 2010
Aaman Lamba

The World Wide Web, that newest and most evanescent of human creations, is an interface to information spread across mental and physical distance. The language we use to describe the relationships and structures of the Web is an "unbroken line" from the founding of the Web in 1991, as Mark Pilgrim, the author of the wonderfully layered HTML 5 - Up And Running tells us.

While a book on the latest version of a programming language might typically be a dry and arid landscape of code samples and new feature summaries, the author enlivens the text with frequent digressions of how HTML came to be what it is - from the origins of the IMG tag in a 1993 email exchange between Marc Andreessen, Tim Berners-Lee, Dave Raggett, and others to the complex interplay between software vendors, standards committees and 'competing visions'.The online Safari edition further enriches the text with contextual hyperlinks to validators, historical artifacts, and encyclopedia articles.

The key new features of the HTML 5 standard are explored well, from the "canvas" tag to video formats, local storage, geolocation, and web workers. Upcoming IE 9 improvements and recent Webkit nightlies are referenced, giving the text an air of living contemporaneity. HTML 5 brings about much simplification into archaic tags and does away, figuratively speaking, with weak elements like "div", bringing in much semantic richness like "article", "header", "footer", and the exquisite "aside" tag, similar to the sidebar in print typography, as the author illustrates.


The visual aspects of HTML 5, the much-anticipated vector layout space in the "canvas" tag, and the "video" tag that defines open standards for embedding video on a web page without requiring Flash or QuickTime, are well illustrated. Complete application-level examples are provided, with the video chapter providing a good explanation of the intricacies of video codecs, profiles, and what works or might work on the web. The pain of licensing issues and the recent extension of free Internet video streaming by the MPEG LA consortium upto 2015 is described, as well as open source alternatives such as "Theora video and Vorbis audio in an Ogg container", which work natively in Firefox and Chrome.

HTML 5 Microdata provides extensibility to the standard language in a way that allows one to add custom attributes and vocabularies in a structured manner. This is supported by search engines like Google through its Rich Snippets program. The author spends much time on the intricacies of microdata and its potential uses.

While HTML 5 will take a while to make its way into common usage and browser support will introduce its own quirks, as with all previous iterations, the change will be gradual, until we find the proprietary implementations of today's websites have been recreated in easy-to-deploy ways on quotidian websites and new innovations take their place. This book does a good job of giving the reader a head start on the new way of doing things on the Web.

Aaman Lamba is the Publisher of Desicritics.org, a Blogcritics network site. He also blogs, more infrequently nowadays, at Audit Trails Of Self
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