Microsoft embraces HTML 5 specification in IE9

The move could be at odds with company's promotion of its own Silverlight RIA technology

Potentially toughening the competitive landscape for its own Silverlight rich Internet application platform, Microsoft will expand support for the HTML5 specification in its Internet Explorer 9 browser, under a plan revealed Tuesday.

In an announcement at the Mix10 conference in Las Vegas, Microsoft unveiled the Internet Explorer 9 Platform Preview, which features expanded support for the World Wide Web Consortium HTML5 specification as well as hardware-accelerated graphics and text and a new JavaScript engine, known as "chakra." These efforts will enable developers to use the same markup and deliver graphically and functionally rich Web applications, Microsoft said. The preview is available at Microsoft's IE test drive Web site.

HTML 5 has the potential to bring standards-based multimedia capabilities to applications that rival what is possible now with proprietary plug-in software like Adobe Systems Flash and, yes, Silverlight. But Microsoft nonetheless appears gung-ho on HTML5, which has been in development for several years.

"We love HTML5 so much we want it to actually work," said Dean Hachamovitch, general manager of Internet Explorer at Microsoft, during a keynote presentation. "In IE9, it will."

Company officials even demonstrated support for HTML5 SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) in IE9. Previously, Microsoft has not backed the graphics standard. Additionally, an update planned for the IE9 platform preview will add support for HTML5 video capabilities.

"When we started looking deeply at HTML5, we saw that it enabled a whole new class of applications," Hachamovitch said.

IE9 will run HTML5 better via GPU acceleration, Hachamovitch said.

But asked during a subsequent press conference whether HTML5 might take away business from the company's prized Silverlight technology, Hachamovitch said the two technologies were "quite complementary."

"I think developers who want to use the exact same markup across multiple browsers, devices, and platforms today choose to use a plug-in," he said. "Over time, there may be more choices. But today, they're clearly complementary."

An attendee lauded Microsoft's backing of HTML5 but still saw a role for Silverlight.

"[HTML5] certainly gives you more options," said Joe Christopher, vice president of software development at HealthStream.

"I still see a need for Silverlight [to provide] some of the richness of interacting with the server and data and things like that," Christopher said.

An analyst also did not see HTML5 as presenting any imminent threat to Silverlight or Flash. "Really, HTML is powerful but Silverlight is quite a bit more powerful," said analyst Al Hilwa, of IDC. "The question is, how much can a developer do with HTML5 [and] will there always be a role for something more sophisticated to describe 3D graphics, that kind of stuff."

HTML5 still is in flux and it might be four or five years before it has stabilized; Silverlight and Flash are here today, Hilwa said.

Microsoft is using the H.264 codec in its implementation of HTML5, which does not have a specified codec of its own, Hachamovitch noted. The company also is supporting other HTML5 specifications including CSS3 and XHTML parsing. Asked if Microsoft would support HTML5 Canvas tags in IE9, Hachamovitch said graphics supported in IE9 are GPU-powered and it remains to be seen what else might be supported in that vein.

Hachamovitch also urged upgrades from IE6. "The world has changed in so many ways since August 2001, when IE6 was first released," he said.

"We're excited to get users off IE6 to Windows 7 and IE8 and then onto IE9," said Hachamovitch. Microsoft will continue to support IE6 with security updates, however.

Asked if Microsoft's older Windows XP OS would support IE9, Abramovitch seemed to frown on the notion. "Building [a] modern browser requires a modern operating system," he said. The successor Windows Vista and Windows 7 OSes offer capabilities in security, performance and graphics infrastructure not offered in previous OSes, said Hachamovitch.

He did not provide a date for the general release of IE9.

Also at Mix10, the company said it plans to contribute to development of new features to the jQuery JavaScript library and made moves to back the Open Data Protocol, or OData, which enables access to cloud-based data for inclusion in applications.

With jQuery, the company will seek better interoperability between ASP.Net and jQuery and package the library with the upcoming Visual Studio 2010 IDE and ASP.Net MVC 2.

Microsoft also released software development kits for OData as well as a second community technology preview of "Dallas," which is an information marketplace powered by the Windows Azure cloud platform. Content and data will be available with an OData feed via Dallas.

Microsoft's Doug Purdy, a software architect, stressed the company's commitment to OData via a number of means.

"We think the Open Data Protocol is really going to open up data for the open Web," enabling capabilities such as mashups, Purdy said. Among the companies OData efforts are exposing lists in SharePoint collaboration platform as OData feeds and building support for the protocol into the Excel spreadsheet program.

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Paul Krill

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