What Is HTML5, And How Does It Change The Way I Browse? [MakeUseOf Explains]

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Over the past few years, you may have heard the term HTML5 every once in a while. Whether you know anything about web development or not, the concept can be somewhat nebulous and confusing. Obviously, it’s the next step in the line of HTML, but what exactly does it do? Why is there so much excitement around it? And why does it matter for you?

HTML, or HyperText Markup Language, is the most important element of the World Wide Web. It’s the language used to describe what a webpage should look like. However, HTML on its own is pretty boring because it can only deliver static pages; in order to meet the growing demand for more impressive web features, HTML has been coupled with plugins like CSS, Flash, Java, Silverlight, etc.

It has become something of a bloated mess and different browsers implement those features in their own ways. HTML5 is meant to solve HTML’s big problems for a cleaner and more efficient web.

HTML: An Overview

HTML as we know it today is called HTML4 and it was first published way back in 1997. Yes, that means we’ve been running on HTML4 for over 15 years now which is an eternity in tech time. Around 2000, a parallel markup language called XHTML started development and that’s been in use as well over the years, mostly due to the stricter standards that it imposes. In general, though, the two are pretty similar.

The problem with HTML4 is its limited functionality. It must be extended through plugins, like Flash, to provide more than simple text and images. Many video players, for example, were created and maintained on the Flash platform and embedded into HTML pages. Many web apps were developed using Java and embedded as well.

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With all of these plugins, it becomes hard to maintain proper standards. Ideally, every browser should display every page on the web in the same way in order to deliver the same experience to every user. To display the same results on multiple browsers, web developers typically need to implement quick fixes and hacks in various portions of their site to accommodate different rendering processes. This gets cumbersome after a while.

On a more practical note, web pages that require plugins like Flash and Java end up using much more CPU and RAM. Ever wondered why your browser uses so much of your computer’s resources? A lot of it can be attributed to these HTML extensions. This is one reason why Apple has disabled Flash support on their mobile devices (to save on battery life).

What Exactly Is HTML5?

HTML4 has worked well, but it obviously has a number of flaws. The team behind HTML5 has a certain high-level plan for the next step in HTML, which means that HTML5 must be built on the following principles:

  • Less dependence on plugins for functionality.
  • Scripting should be replaced with markup whenever possible.
  • Device independence (i.e., available on all devices and providing the same end experience).
  • Public development process so people can see what’s going on.

More specifically, HTML5 adds a whole bunch of new markup tags:

  • <header> and <footer> tags to help you isolate the tops and bottoms of content blocks. Can be used more than once on a single page.
  • <article> tag which identifies a specific, singular piece of content, e.g., a blog post or a user comment.
  • <nav> tag to specify which sections should be considered navigational blocks.
  • <section> tag that lets you define a generic section of content; similar to the currently existing <div> tag.
  • <audio> and <video> tags to mark the inclusion of audio or video content.
  • <canvas> tag that lets you draw graphics using a separate scripting language.
  • <embed> tag to embed external content or applications into the page.

HTML5 also deprecates some tags: <acronym>, <applet>, <font>, <frame>, <frameset>, <noframes>, and a handful of others.

The full standards specification for HTML5 is planned to be completed by 2014, but HTML5 has made lots of progress already and it can be used to implement site features even today. The full standards specification for HTML5.1 is planned to be completed by 2016.

Why HTML5 Matters For You

As a web user, you will benefit from HTML5 because it fixes the most glaring problems in HTML4. Web sites will have better web standards, which will result in more efficient content and improved performance. As HTML5 is adopted across the board, web pages should start to load faster, less bandwidth should be used, and battery life on mobile devices ought to last longer.

Plus, you won’t have to keep so many plugins like Flash and Java updated. I hate it when I constantly have to update so many addons and plugins across multiple browsers. And what happens when one of them is the wrong version? Sites stop working and frustration ensues. All of that should be dealt away with when HTML5 becomes the main standard.

If you’re just a regular web user and you have no intentions of coding or maintaining your own web site, then you don’t have to do anything to enjoy HTML5’s awesome features. All major browsers today support HTML5 to a large degree and you’ve probably been taking advantage of it already without knowing. Just keep your browser updated and you’ll be good to go.

And if you’re a web developer, HTML5 will make everything simpler and easier for you. If all goes well, you won’t have to deal with edge cases in web design since all browsers will need to adhere to the same standards.


HTML5 is the future of web browsing and it will surely revolutionize the way we surf the Internet. Even under the limited nature of HTML4, developers have created some mind-boggling web sites, so it’ll be interesting to see what sort of neat advancements they’ll make with the functionality of HTML5.

Hopefully now you can see HTML5 in a clearer light and see why it’s been hyped up as much as it has. You can further your learning on these ten websites too that show you what HTML5 is all about. You should also check out our HTML5 tutorial to learn more. If you have any questions, please ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer you.

Image Credits: HTML5 Via Shutterstock, HTML Code Via Shutterstock, HTML5 Tag Cloud Via Shutterstock, Guy On Laptop Via Shutterstock

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Comments (15)
  • Sylvia Liney

    Thanks Moshehim…I am gonna copy & paste your suggestions & print it out for use later…I did in fact get updates for Adobe, and Apple ITunes, by posting on their community help sites, and, lo & behold, i also got MS updates twice this week!! Maybe they also read my comments on their community help site!

    I live in Australia, not that much cheap stuff here…but I do have a Tech guy I can go to in an emergency!

    I still have no idea how to use this HTML5 info on my computer, I mean, where do you get it from in the first place…lol…

    I find it all so time consuming as well…good job I’m retired!

    Peace and Love to you all…

  • Sylvia Liney

    I apparently don’t have a problem with flash any more, it appears that Adobe has stopped giving updates for WIN XP PRO 32 bit….my only problem is, that, as a Senior on a fixed Govt pension, I now have to save up & buy a new computer, as I can no longer view any videos, Apple has also stopped giving updates for WIN XP, so the nail’s in the coffin , without, I may add, any prior warning.
    And now my Windows Office Outlook is playing up, so looks like I will have to choose between eating or a computer….
    So, look out WIN XP devotees, we are being forced to make the change, whether we like it or not (or can afford to upgrade)..
    Peace Love and Happiness to all x

    • Moshehim

      Not neccessarily.

      First, Windows 8.1 (not 8!) is very lean and can work on more modest resources, so you should check and see if it’ll work on your computer. Of course, you’ll have to put up with the godaweful user interface Microsoft gave Windows 8, so you might want to wait for Windows 10, which is only a couple of days away!!! and wait to see if it’s any better before making the move.

      (If not, perhaps you could upgrade the comuter on the cheap. Adding RAM, if the computer would support it. And if you can get old types of RAM for old types of computers. If you live in America, well, I always watch videos where people talk about ech stuff they found in thrift stores – I’v never even seen a thrift store! – so maybe you’ll find what you need there. Or you can look it up on Amazon or something. They don’t ship these kind of things internationally for some reason, but they certainly do in the US. I’d also reccomand buying a 32GB SSD – not even a good one, just a cheap one – and install your OS of choice on it to speed things up some. Just be sure to save your data on the hard-disk. And back to the cloud and all that…)
      –> This might be a bit too complicated for you if you’re not tech-oriented, although it’s reall as easy as using a screw driver and reading English, but if that’s too much, and you don’t have anyone to ask for help, let’s just stay with the system you’ve already got, okay?

      Note: If you buy an update from XP to 8 (you have to update 8 to 8.1 afterwards, I think) – which is a little cheaper than a new Windows license – you ostensibly can keep your data as it is and let only the system change itself, but I wouldn’t recomand it. Backup, backup, backup! Back all your data first!

      Another route to take is the Linux option. Yes, I know, it has a bad reputation of too much hassle for the non-tech guy – or gal, in our case – to mess with, but reall, these days you get good user-oriented Linux distros that allow you to stir clear of the dreaded terminal. So you’re not a super user, who cares? Who’s buisness is it anyway? Only yours, and if you’re happy with it, more power to you.

      Certainly, if you stick to more commonly used applications you can get at the software center (or which came preinstalled with the linux package), you can happily stay with the GUI (that’s Graphical UI). And installing it is as easy as pie! I guess making installation USB images would be a tad bit too complicated for you, but if you have a DVD burner, just burn the image to a DVD (or CD, if you use a light version like Lubuntu 32bit for older software), put it in, restart, get your bios to run from cd/dvd (if it isn;t already doing so), then sit back and relax – other than occassionally answering questions like where ou llive, what language do you speak, &etc.

      Note: With many modern Linux distros, if you burn the image to CD/DVD, you can use it as a Live CD, meaning you can try the OS first running from the CD, without installing it first, to see if you like it and would want to keep it. Just bear in mind when you do, optical media is about 1000X slower than magnetic media, so it’ll take long to start, and might act sluggishly afterwards – that shouldn’t be an issue when you do install it and run it from the hard disk drive (HDD).

      Many Linux distros come with preinstalled software – some of which is available also for Windows, some are alternatives.

      Specifically, I would recomend you try out Zorin OS, which is a Linux distro that pretends to be Windows. Aside from the familiar environment, WINE is fully integrated within the OS, allowing you to run your favourite Windows software – in Linux! Mind you, it does it by creating virtual hard-drives, and installing virtual Windows on the, so it’ll take more than 200MB per software (or sofware suite, like Microsoft Office – on all of its programms – for instance.) But if you have the space, why not use it? (That’s the Unix credo, which carried over to things like Linux, Android, iOS, &etc.)

      Additionall, just because you’ve installed Linux, doesn’t mean you have to give Windows XP up – ou can run both, side by sode – in dual-boot mode.

      You already have Windows installed, which is good – installing Linux first and Windows later is a pain, Windows is jealous. So run Windows, defrag your HDD (Start > All Programs Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defragment = or something similar), put the installation DVD in, and when promptedm tell it to keep Windows XP and run both OSs side-by-side. You’ll have to allocate some space on the HDD to make a sepaate partition for Linux to run from, as well as a third partition for swap area (kind of like pagefile on Windows, but Linux likes keeping it separatel) – so make sure there’s actually some free space on your hard drive.

      Now you can use Linux for your everyday needs, and when you really, really need Windows XP and can’t do what you want from Linux, just boot the computer and when the boot loader asks you which OS to run, choose Windows. Just consider not connecting to the internet, because Microsoft stopped updating XP April last year, and that includes crucial security updates, so it’s wide open to unwanted intrusions.

      And there you have it! Don’t throw away your old – and much beloved – computer just because its OS is now officially dead. Get a new OS and give our computer a second life!

      Note: Another popular Linux Distro that pretends it’s Windows is Linux Mint. A lot of people recommend it over Zorin, but I personally don’t care much for it. You can download and burn it (go for Cinnamon, if you do, I prefer it over MATE) and try it from a Live DVD if you want and see which OS you like better. But I strongly recommend Zorin.

      Well, good luck, whichever way you choose to go.

  • Linda

    My Web site is coded in HTML4. My host is recommending/requiring HTML5. Do I have to recode my site to become compliant? Will existing coding continue to work on the new platform? Thanks.

  • Mike

    My Lynux doesn’t play flash so I can’t see any video…. what should I do?

  • Keith S

    Awesome read! Explained so that even a simple man like myself could understand it! Thanks!

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
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