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The truth about HTML5
Stevens L., Owen R., Apress, Berkeley, CA, 2013. 200 pp.  Type: Book (978-1-430264-15-6)
Date Reviewed: Jul 30 2014

Everything about this book is provocative, from the attention-grabbing title to the critically realistic diatribes embedded in each chapter. If you’re looking for an introduction to HTML5 that covers the “what” and the “how” of the specification, look elsewhere. However, if you are looking for an insider’s guide to how HTML5 came to be, and some pitfalls inherent in taking the specification at face value, look no further than this book.

Much if not most practical technology writing suffers from a myopic focus on factual elements and syntax, while ignoring the practical details and issues that are the stock in trade of experienced practitioners. Writing on web technology suffers from the additional problem of trying to appeal to a general audience, as the readers of such work come from a diverse background of functional disciplines. What is of interest to a web designer may not be within the purview of an architect, and what a technically savvy person finds useful may not be of interest to the more pragmatic reader.

This book is written by a two-man team, one a web designer and the other a web developer, and targeted to practitioners in those two disciplines who may or may not have exposure to the evolution of web technology. The focus is on the highlights of the HTML5 specifications, and what it means for the current and future state of web design and development. The book interweaves HTML5 specifications with more practical, and often contrary, advice and wisdom from the history of HTML.

This becomes immediately apparent in the first chapter, “A Somewhat Sensationalized History of HTML5,” which holds no punches in relating the evolution and surprising origins of many of the features of HTML5. This chapter introduces the reader to the differences between the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) and their competing HTML specifications. The conclusion is that the W3C HTML5 specification [1] and its counterpart, the HTML Living Standard [2], continue to take a backseat to the decisions of the major browser manufacturers.

This conclusion is then demonstrated in subsequent chapters, starting with chapters 2 through 4, which deal with HTML5 structure, including the new structural elements. The authors cover a lot of ground in a short space. They hone in on internal issues with HTML5 structural tags, like the lack of styling support in some cases. They also point out the fact that browser support trumps specification on the web, and detail some significant issues with HTML5 adoption. The surprising conclusion is that in many cases accessible rich Internet applications (ARIA) roles [3] are preferable to HTML5 features, not least to avoid issues with accessibility.

The middle section of the book, comprising chapters 5 through 8, deals with some of the more grandiose claims made by or on behalf of the HTML5 specifications. In a nutshell, these include the redefinition of existing elements such as “strong” and “em,” the idea that HTML5 is “more semantic” (page 47), and a helpful debunking of some of the features of HTML5 forms. Many of these features are unusable given the current state of the web and lack of support by one or more web client providers. The authors break down the issues involved and provide guidance as to what can and should be used, and where, including recommending the ongoing utilization of JavaScript libraries for graceful degradation across browser platforms.

The remainder of the book consists of five chapters covering media features of the HTML5 specifications, and some predictions of the future state of the web given these new features. For practitioners currently building rich media applications for traditional web or mobile devices, these chapters will provide helpful guidance on which features to utilize and when.

Overall, this book fills a void in the world of HTML5 writing, including the HTML specifications themselves. Anyone who is interested in utilizing the features of HTML5, or engaged in modern web design or development, will be well served by reading it.

More reviews about this item: Amazon

Reviewer:  Nathan Carlson Review #: CR142569 (1411-0950)
1) http://www.w3.org/TR/html5/ (07/15/2014)
2) http://www.whatwg.org/specs/web-apps/current-work/multipage/ (07/15/2014)
3) http://www.w3.org/TR/wai-aria/ (07/15/2014)
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