My thoughts on HTML5 at Microsoft TechDays 2011

I’m beginning to neglect this blog as much as the Year of Frugal Gaming that I also write for (check it out, our glorious leader Frugal Dave recently picked up a stylish blogger award! I’m thrilled to be in such company!) and I’ve written a post over there on what I’ve been up to gaming wise.

I’ve been lucky enough to go to TechDays in London again this year – I’m definitely the “community” guy in our team, seeking out user groups, conferences, blogs and podcasts. I’m of the mind that you need to be plugged into all these things to know what’s available. When all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail, as the old saying goes, and I want to have as many different types of hammer as possible. It does come at a slightly bad time, however, as my wife is expecting to drop another baby in just over two weeks (and last night was a sleepless one of false alarms, before a 4:15 alarm in order to head to London for TechDays…) and I’m planning on staying in the capital tonight rather than travel all the way back to Bristol, and return to London again tomorrow. If I get “that call” I’ll have to race for the tube station and get back in time!

Anyway, I’ve already been to the Monday event on “The Web” (a discussion of HTML5, CSS3, IE9 and other sequels). I’m very impressed, but also a little melancholy. What I took away from there is that I can now create great looking sites without having an abundance of <div> elements and interlocking images to create a box with rounded corners, I can just do it in CSS. Except, for almost anything, our designers want their design to appear in every browser. This means that we can’t use the new hotness because it won’t show up in IE8 and below, which still have a considerable market share. We’re only now convincing people to let us build sites that degrade “gracefully” in IE6, since it takes a disproportionate amount of time to make a site look like it should in IE6. Now we’ve got the luxury of saying “That’s a bit too hard, I’m just going to make it square.” We can’t use the same excuses for IE8, which is the default browser for Windows 7 – only a couple of years old.

On a personal site, or if we had trendier clients – the kind who care more about seeming new and cutting edge, with things floating all over the page, the sort of thing that grinds to a halt on a slow PC – there would be plenty of scope for this new technology. But as it stands, HTML5 compliance is low enough that we won’t be able to pick it up just yet.

Microsoft did put on a great show though, getting in experts on CSS and HTML from outside their own company (heck, they had a speaker from Opera – probably because Mozilla or Google turned them down!) and giving a little poke at themselves about IE6. Oh, IE6.

I’m keen to get to use HTML5, but the day job isn’t going to be the place to do that. I’m still working on an intranet app that breaks – actual functionality breaks, not just styles – if it’s not used in IE7 (compatibility mode in 8 and 9 are fine), and our external websites need to look the same across browsers. We can’t just pretend that all IE users are on version 9, that’s not realistic and won’t make customers very happy. It doesn’t matter if it degrades gracefully, the design decisions would be so different in most cases (three <div> tags with separate background images for a repeated news item to give it rounded corners, or one <div> and no images to do it all with fancy CSS3?) that it can’t look “correct” without major javascript hacks which probably involve inserting all the HTML that we were going to in the first place, and still work in the newer HTML 5 browsers. The only difference is that it won’t have such pleasant markup for the developers (or the geeks who view source on websites they visit) to read.

This problem isn’t going to go away – Vista shipped with IE7, so that’s going to be supported for a fair while yet. IE6 shipped with XP, and since XP is still supported until about 2014 at last count. That means that IE6 is still officially supported by Microsoft until 2014. Vista won’t roll off until 2019 (at a guess), and Windows 7 (which contains IE8) will probably be into 2022 or so. For another five years (being optimistic), we have to assume that non-technical people (the majority of those that visit our company’s sites) will be using the browser they installed with their operating system and never upgrading, and the majority of market share will be held by non-HTML5 compliant browsers. Hopefully, Microsoft will make more websites like, which tells us when we can officially ditch IE6 country by country. It won’t be long, and we can assume that anyone hitting our sites from IE6 will be Chinese and therefore unlikely to buy our products!