This story ran in the print edition of The Seattle Times on April 13, 2011. –Sharon Pian Chan
LAS VEGAS — Microsoft’s kickoff of its Web conference here Tuesday was like a shimmering mirage of futuristic websites in the desert.
The sites the company showed Tuesday were an evolutionary leap forward from the lines of text and boxy templates of today’s websites — a next-generation Web.
The thousand or so developers at Microsoft’s MIX 2011 fawned over sites that create anime in real time and stream multiple Bon Jovi videos to a single Web page.
In the future, websites will feel like applications that run on a PC or an iPad, instead of a scrolling page of links.
The Web standards that make these new Web designs possible, HTML5 and CSS3, have been discussed for a couple of years now. But most Web developers have not started building next-generation websites.
“People need to get into it right now,” said Walid Abu-Habda, corporate vice president for developer platform evangelism at Microsoft. “You can either lead or follow. I prefer to lead.”
That’s not such a simple decision for some Web developers at MIX this week.
InnovaSystem, a software firm in San Diego, is not yet building websites with the new Web standards, even though “we’re really excited about HTML5,” said Jim Kilty, director of software quality assurance. “It’s more like interacting with an application than a Web experience, which people equate with something more boring and mundane.”
His company’s main client is the Department of Defense. “They tend not to lean toward the forward edge,” he said, citing the wide age range of computers the department uses, as well as cost and security issues.
Also, the Web browsers people are using are so varied that developers don’t want to make sites that will run like butter on new browsers but break for people using older ones.
“That’s also a very significant concern for us,” Kilty said. “There are some very outdated browsers” still being used.
Internet Explorer 9 is Microsoft’s first browser that supports the new Web standards, but it just came out in March. Microsoft is pushing ahead even faster, saying Tuesday it is ready to show developers a preview of Internet Explorer 10.
Many people cannot even download IE9 because it runs only on Windows 7 and Windows Vista operating systems. Many people still use computers that run Windows XP.
The last time Microsoft gave an update, in March, Internet Explorer 9 had been downloaded 2.35 million times. By comparison, Mozilla’s Firefox 4 has been downloaded 78 million times since it came out last month.
IE9’s limitation to newer operating systems may be easing, however, as Microsoft passed one milestone Tuesday. According to research firm StatCounter, Windows 7 has just passed Windows XP in market share in the U.S.
At MIX, Microsoft also showed the World’s Biggest Pac-Man game in a website and a 3-D version of Foursquare, both built with the new standards. A handful of firms are leaping ahead and building websites to show what’s possible.
Abu-Habda predicts the next-generation Web standards will take off sooner rather than later. “I think it’s going to be months, not years. It’s not going to be 10 years” out, he said.
Kilty is already thinking ahead to what his firm could build for the Department of Defense. “We would like to include more images and more video, and fuse them in a more mashed-up way with data.”
And sometimes, once you show it, people start demanding it.
“The plus side is that once people see it in action it will sometimes kick-start them to upgrade,” Kilty said.