Cloud Cover: The Tablet Takeover, Coming of Chrome OS, and HTML5

Katherine Stevenson

Even before Steve Jobs made the bold prediction that new formfactors such as tablets would eventually replace the PC, there’s been ample evidence that the landscape of personal computing is radically changing—and mobility is a driving force. Just look around at all the folks carrying smartphones, the massive growth of the netbook sector, and yes, the phenomenon that is the iPad. Even your most hardcore PC power-user is finding a need for these smaller, more portable computing devices in his or her life. Whether the growing proliferation of these gadgets spells the end of the desktop workhorse PC is arguable, but change is definitely afoot.
Enter the Cloud
But hardware is only half of the story. Applications are evolving, as well. They have to. Smaller, slimmer, more lightweight devices necessarily entail more modest resources, e.g., less processing power, less storage. Enter the cloud, aka the Internet. Web-based applications make it possible to perform many and varied chores on a portable device without all the clutter and resource strain that comes from installed software. And web apps are flexible, accessible from any location or device with an Internet connection.

Google is so confident in the web as a complete productivity platform that it’s developed the Chrome OS , which will have a small footprint, minimalist interface, and work exclusively with web-based apps. And to complement those efforts, the company recently announced its creation of a Chrome web app store , which should spur third-party app development and make finding web apps easier. Word has it , we can expect to see notebooks running the Chrome OS this fall.

Even at the early stage, it’s clear we’re moving far beyond what Web 2.0 has offered. I’ll use this column, month in and out, to offer news, commentary, and analysis about the cloud—how it’s shaped today and what we can expect from it in the future.
The Role of HTML5
The term that’s on most everyone’s radar of late is HTML5 , which will be instrumental in this new era of computing. HTML5 will replace the current version of HTML (HTML 4.01) as the core markup language for the web. It will be years before a final standard for the specification is ratified, but elements of HTML5 are already being implemented in websites and supported by all the major browsers.
HTML5 promises uniformity and compatibility across browsers and devices. It offers a greatly enhanced feature set and functionality for a more dynamic, media-rich experience. And it should improve performance by simplifying code and eliminating the need for third-party plugins.
By making it easier for developers to place and manage interactive elements into websites, HTML5 is sure to spur new and innovative ways of using the web. Here are just a few examples of what’s possible and how the features are currently being implemented.

Drag and drop: The relatively new feature in Gmail that allows you to drag and drop images and documents into an email, rather than browsing for the file you want to attach, comes courtesy of an HTML5 API. Expect to see the same functionality in web pages of all kinds.

Editable content: When parts of a web page are designated with the contenteditable attribute, users can add and edit text live on that page, making knowledge of HTML markup unnecessary for inputting content. A fun little demo lets you try it out.

Canvas tag: This designates parts of a web page for on-the-fly image scripting of 2D images or text, using JavaScript. So charts and graphs, for instance, can dynamically reflect changes in database-driven data. Or in another example , when a user clicks part of the screen, it dynamically generates one of 100 different stored tweets about HTML5.

Embedded video: Video can easily be included on any website with the simple addition of <video> tags, eliminating the need for third-party plugins such as QuickTime and Flash. YouTube is currently running a beta that allows you to view videos on the site in HTML5 mode rather than a Flash player, as indicated by a tag in the lower-right corner of the video.

Geolocation: This API informs a website of the user’s location in latitude and longitude, so the site can display relevant results.
With even just this handful of examples, you can see how HTML5 will change your browsing experience. If you want to know how your browser currently rates for HTML5 support, go here .

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