Redmond, Washington — Software monopolists Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 is the most standards-compliant browser to date. Although, it still dawdles behind the rest of the pack when it comes to supporting the latest and greatest elements of HTML5 and CSS 3. To address that shortcoming, Microsoft has introduced a new HTML5 Labs site to give interested web developers a way to “preview” HTML5 features that would not be supported in Internet Explorer 9, but could make it into future updates.The HTML5 Labs web-site will function as a virtual space for developers testing unstable web standards from various standards bodies such as W3C. The company mentions that coders can utilize the site in as a foundation-level resource in the knowledge that their sites will continue to work with build updates.
The demo code that Microsoft is furnishing with the site’s launch on Wednesday is for Web Sockets and IndexedDB, two aspects of HTML5 that are not quite complete.
“Developer code and web pages based on these specifications will break and will have to be re-written. Use these prototypes only to experiment with new HTML5 features and not for production code,” warns the site.
“These prototypes will help us have informed discussions with developer communities, and give implementation experience with the draft specifications that will produce feedback to improve the eventual standards,” Jean Paoli, general manager of interoperability strategy for Microsoft, said in a statement. “It also enables us to give the community some visibility on those specifications we consider interesting from a scenario point of view, but which are not at the stage where we can consider them ready for official product support.”
HTML5 is still in embryonic stage — the spec changes and evolves on a daily basis, and a few key issues are still undecided. While the more cutting edge web browsers like Firefox, Opera and Google Chrome have opted to support portions of the HTML5 spec that are still very much in flux, Microsoft is taking a more conservative approach, shipping what it calls “mainstream browser” features and skipping the more experimental parts of HTML5.
In a recent blog post, Dean Hachamovitch, the Corporate Vice President for Internet Explorer at Microsoft, attempted to draw a line between the “prototype implementations” of HTML5 and those features that are “mainstream browser product[s].” “With many HTML5 technologies still under active development, our approach is to give developers better choices and avoid false dichotomies around standards support,” Hachamovitch wrote in a blog post.
According to the company, WebSockets is an empirical web standard configured to simplify full-duplex communications channels on a single Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) socket. It can be used in Web browsers, servers, and clients or server applications. While IndexedDB is designed to store a large amount of structured data on web browsers as well as on the user’s computer and access it for offline use. It is useful in places like bookmarks and e-mail.
“We chose these two specifications primarily because they are virtually very useful but currently unstable,” Paoli said. “These are the two specifications we currently believe the community stands to benefit the most from, but both are in flux.”
According to Microsoft’s publicity statement on the launch of the site, “As the web is evolving faster than ever before the challenge of interoperability is increasing with HTML5. A critical challenge for developers in this new environment is to ensure that developers are writing to stable specifications that will continue to work. Unlike some other browsers, Internet Explorer 9 takes a site-ready approach to HTML5, ensuring that developers can use the capabilities of HTML5 today without worrying about what is stable and unstable. This gives developers confidence that their sites will continue to work in the future.”
“We are receiving a lot of questions from people wondering when will HTML5 be ready,” Paoli said. “Our response is that HTML5 is ready to be used today using Internet Explorer 9. So you can use whatever is stable from HTML5 in IE9. And for anything experimental, you can play and try things using the prototype.”
Many modules of HTML5, for which Microsoft published its support in April, have been implemented in the most recent repetition of Microsoft’s browser, Internet Explorer 9 beta. Microsoft said that it will continue to provide new code as it is updated to developers building sites with these technologies.
While the differentiation is Microsoft’s own, and for the most part totally discretional since the entire HTML5 spec is technically unfinished, on a practical level, Hachamovitch is right — some HTML5 features are more equal than others.