Home About Meetings FOSS

Web developments: time to update?

Posted on February 14, 2013
( 6 minute read )

The arrival of Windows 8 RT in tablets and on mobile ’phones on October 26th and the announcement that Orange and T-Mobile have been given the go-ahead to offer 4G mobile ’phones raises the premium on HTML5. Windows 8 RT has been optimised for HTML5 as part of Microsoft’s philosophy of offering a consistent browser style interface. and 4G mobile ’phone users will not be happy with websites that take much longer to load because they contain so many obsolete features.

But things have also been changing in HTML and CSS. HTML5 and CSS2.1 published in 2011 are expected to be the last ‘versions.’ From now on, HTML and CSS will evolve through a process of rolling updates, with features being added or updated continuously alongside features being designated ‘obsolete.’ There is already a long list of obsolete features today; that is likely to grow longer as HTML and CSS evolve.

Among the changes in the last twelve months are: some new HTML elements, a major tidying up of the properties elements can have, further developments in the newer HTML features, greatly extended options for referencing elements in CSS, the addition of SVG 1.0 colours and HSL colours and improved media handling. From the number of things in the pipeline, there could be even more features introduced in the next twelve months, many intended to enhance the user experience on tablets and mobile ’phones.

So what are the issues if you have a website?

The first is whether you need to reach the generation who are buying tablets and smartphones; if your volunteers and your client base are unlikely to be users of the latest technology, you can take your time to upgrade to HTML5 because none of the older browsers will stop loading older websites and HTML5 can run on older browsers with relative ease.

If your volunteers or your client group are likely to be users of the latest technology, what you can do will depend on your situation and your needs.

If you run a website based on templates which you get from a hosting company, you may be stuck with obsolete features because the companies have spent so much time and money developing these templates that they would prefer to squeeze every last penny out of them while they take their time to develop a new generation of templates.

Similarly, if you use software like Drupal or WordPress, you may find that you will have to wait for them to update the software to use HTML5.

You may be in a better position if your website is maintained by an outside company on whom you can bring pressure to update the website if they want to keep your custom. But whether that is worthwhile may depend on the points outlined below.

The best situation might seem to be if you maintain your own website but even that is not completely straightforward. A lot depends on your uses of the web.

If you use your website to publicise the organisation and provide information, it is relatively easy to update it to HTML5. The problems come if you use your website to interact with people, whether to attract donations, to communicate with volunteers or to communicate with staff. In this case, you are likely to have a lot of programs running behind the website which will need to carry on running once you have updated the website.

A lot will depend on how the website has been built. If the parts of the website used for interaction have been built separately from the rest of the website, HTML5 will happily call pages written to older standards. So you can update the pages which are only about publicising your work and create an HTML5 ‘front of house’ behind which your older web pages continue to operate until you can get round to updating them.

But if the pages devoted to publicity or providing information are inextricably bound up with those concerned with interaction, now may be the time to think about a complete overhaul of the website. You won’t be alone; major companies are realising that they have allowed their websites to grow ‘like Topsy’ and that the parts of their websites that deal with giving information, with interacting with customers, with interacting with suppliers, with interacting with staff and with dealing with complaints need to be separate. This doesn’t just make maintaining the website easier; it also makes it easier to apply different security considerations to different parts of the website.

The next few years could see a revolution in the way people use the web as dramatic as the changes of the late 1990s. In these situations, the early adopters usually gain an advantage.

For some notes giving snapshots of the current state of HTML and CSS, go to http://bradlug.co.uk/?p=809