There was a time when the Internet was primarily a way to share academic research. Then, things changed and in a blink the Web became a news and commerce powerhouse. A few more blinks, and here we are today, with an Internet that uses state-of-the networking technology to funnel jaw-dropping amounts of slapstick video and piano-playing kittens around the planet.
It’s hard to exaggerate the magnitude of this shift. What was just a “wouldn’t it be cool” dream in early 2005 is now YouTube, the world’s third-most-popular website. 3- and 4-minute videos have taken over the Web (and, in the process, at least part of our lives). And network colossus Cisco reports that the trend isn’t slowing down, estimating that a staggering 90 percent of all Internet traffic will be video by 2013.
Amazingly, this monumental change happened despite the fact that HTML and web browsers have no built-in support for video or even audio. Instead, they rely on plug-ins like Flash, which work well for most people, most of the time. But there are clear blind spots—like the one Apple created when it released the iPad with no Flash support.
HTML5 addresses the gap by adding the <audio> and <video> elements that HTML has been missing all these years. Finally, rich media gets consistent, standardized support that doesn’t require a plug-in. But the story isn’t all rosy. The major browser companies are locked into an audio and video format war that’s way dirtier than Blu-ray versus HD-DVD. The ...