This story was written by Keith Dawson for UBM DeusM’s community Web site Develop in the Cloud, sponsored by AT&T. It is archived here for informational purposes only because the Develop in the Cloud site is no more. This material is Copyright 2012 by UBM DeusM.

HTML5 Myths

A Mozilla executive's attempt to set the record straight on HTML5 meets mostly argumentation.

Chris Heilmann sets out to clear the air on HTML5 but, as in modern-day politics, few are convinced who weren't already believers.

Heilmann, principal developer evangelist at Mozilla, takes aim at four "myths" about HTML5 that, in his view, are widely held beliefs that are keeping developers even from exploring HTML as an option for their projects. The myths are:

Heilmann's arguments for the viability of HTML5 largely succeed for three of these points. They are less convincing on the question of performance.

On monetization, Heilmann asserts that HTML5 apps have more, not fewer, avenues than native apps. The latter are pretty much restricted to their closed, proprietary walled-garden app stores, which take a lot of time and trouble to get into and from which the apps can be ejected with no notice. HTML5 apps can be monetized in all the ways developed for Websites over the years, including advertising; they can also be packaged up in wrappers such as those provided by Adobe PhoneGap and marketed and distributed on those same app stores.

Regarding offline storage, Heilmann lays out simply and straightforwardly the mechanisms for local storage already available in HTML5, some supported across all browser environments and some on only a subset. There are libraries available, such as Lawnchair, that package up the available local-storage connectors behind a JSON API.

In describing the toolset available for HTML5, Heilmann stresses the variety and range of tools, from simple text editors to Adobe's WYSIWYG Edge suiteand Google's new Yeoman project for packaging and deployment. "This is the web, you can pick and choose what suits you most," Heilmann writes. Most of it is free.

The argument for HTML5's performance are less robust. He concedes that native a app will perform better, especially on mobile, but claims that looking only at performance misses what Web apps are good at -- which is running everywhere, "independent of environment, display, or technology." True but off the point. Head-to-head performance comparison is valid. Heilmann says that Android and iOS treat HTML5 apps as second-class citizens without access to all the hardware integration and acceleration that would allow optimized performance. This much is true -- "For now," Heilmann adds.

The comments on Heilmann's post on the Mozilla Hacks blog are reasonably sympathetic to his point of view; other blogs and discussion forums are less so. Dan Rowinski on points out Mozilla's agenda in the age-old portable-or-native argument, concluding, "The fact is that HTML5 is not for everybody." And the comments on the Hacker News discussion are considerably more skeptical. One community member there, smsm42, deconstructs the "mythbusting" meme with which Heilmann's editors graced his piece (Heilmann reveals in a comment on his home turf that his working title was "HTML5 myths and some solutions"). Overall the Hacker News crowd does not seem to be buying the arguments in favor of HTML5.

I assume Heilmann was motivated to try to lay to rest these HTML5 myths by the increasing sense that the native, walled-garden approach is on the ascendent -- helped along by Facebook's backing away from HTML5. Unfortunately no single piece of argumentation is going to be able to settle out this complex question, or indeed even to change very many minds that are already made up.

Related links