Opera talks HTML5, CSS3, wants us to be creative

Flash set to be replaced over time by open standards

EARLIER TODAY WE attended a presentation by Opera held in Taipei of all places. Opera’s CTO, Håkon Wium Lie and Opera’s co-founder, Jon S. Von Tetzchner were on location to talk to the media as well as partners in Taiwan about the future of the web. Well, at least the future of the web the way Opera envisages it. Mr Lie started and ended his presentation with a simple statement “There’s only one web. We must take good care of it, and use it creatively.” which really is something worth thinking about.

Opera is something of an underdog in the world of desktop web browsers.  You might be surprised to learn that it’s the most widely used browser on a wide range of other devices, especially in the mobile handset market. Opera is also a driving force behind open standards and faster development of new, improved standards and Mr Lie has a very keen personal interest in HTML5 and CSS3. He showed some interesting demo’s of what’s possible with HTML5 and CSS3, such as the <canvas> tag which could potentially allow for in-browser 3D games.

The much discussed <video> tag was also demoed. However, unlike Apple and Microsoft, as well as Google to some degree, Opera is on the same side as Mozilla when it comes to the choice of video codec, as Opera would rather see Ogg Theora become the standard of web based video over H.264. The simple reason for this is because Ogg Theora is an open standard, unlike H.264 which is a mess of patents belonging to at least 26 different companies. Currently H.264 is free when it comes to viewing content, but the licensing terms are set to change in 2015 and in theory the consortium behind the H.264 could start charging for each time an H.264 encoded file was played back online.

We’re getting a little bit off topic now though, but it’s good to see that Opera is serious when it comes to backing open standards. Mr Lie is also one of the creators of the CSS standard and has co-authored several books about CSS, so it’s no wonder that he was keen on promoting some of the new features of CSS3 as yet another building block which will add to the many new features of HTML5. It’s remarkable that these new features didn’t come a long time ago, such as the upcoming border-radius addition to CSS3 which allows for rounded corners, something which is fairly complex to do today and requires some decent image manipulation skills.

CCS3 will also bring with it support for additional fonts which are simply placed on the web server and linked to in the CSS code. The browser will then pick up on this and display the custom font. It’s also possible to create entire graphical menus in CSS3, without the need of using a single image. This will not only speed of your web browsing experience, but it will also help you reduce the amount of data that you’re downloading, something that is key on many mobile devices where you pay for anything outside of your included data package.

As an example of what can be done with CSS3, Mr Lie pictured an Opera logo made entirely in CSS3, although Opera’s logo is in fairness just a big red O, so in comparison to many other logos it’s quite easy to do. He also showed his personal website to which he had added screen width information, so that it scaled differently depending on the width of the browser window used to accessed his website on, a feature that we’d like to become widely adopted. One final feature that CSS3 is able to do is provide formatting for print, something that might just come in handy for those that want to print their own books, not a mass market feature, but nonetheless interesting.

Mr Tetzchner spoke more about the browser itself and how Opera is working on bringing the same user experience to all devices that its browser can run on, yet maintaining a degree of customization for its partners. If you have used a recent version of Opera on a mobile device, then we think that you’ll agree with us that there are few, if any better alternatives when it comes to getting as close to the full web experience as possible on a mobile device as you will with Opera.

He continued to talk about widgets, something that has gained a lot of popularity thanks to Apple amongst others. More specifically he talked about widgets on mobile devices and it was pretty clear that Mr Tetzchner isn’t Apple’s biggest fan as far as its use of proprietary solutions is concerned. Then again, this is a major problem with all mobile platforms, not just Apple’s iPhone and again, Opera’s solution to the problem was to use web standards to build widgets around. Opera already has a lot of experience in doing this and one of the major advantages of using web standards for widgets is the simple fact that the widgets will work on any device.

It was quite amusing to hear him say that Opera was feeling that the “cloud” is getting a bit old and they’ve been looking at the next thing for quite some time already. So what is the next thing? Well, it’s the ability to connect directly from one device to another, no matter where the other device is located. The idea is that you shouldn’t have to go via the cloud to be able to sync your pictures on your smartphone with your PC, or why even bother syncing them, when you can share them directly from your smartphone. We can see some problems with this approach, but it also makes sense most of the time.

During the Q&A session that followed, Mr Tetzchner suggested that the underlying OS on whatever device you’re using is become less and less relevant, as just about everything you need on your device can run on the web today. As much as we like web based applications, you tend to run into problems as soon as you can’t connect to the web and this is something that still needs a bit of work. There was of course some questions about Adobe Flash and its relevance in the future of the web and it was suggested that for now, Flash is what’s being used and so be it, but Opera is expecting HTML5 to replace Flash for video content over the next few years.

Speaking of video, Opera is working on hardware acceleration for video and although they didn’t have all the details at hand, they suggested that it’s very like to be platform independent as far as the PC goes. Flash is currently limited to only supporting hardware acceleration under Windows which makes it a useless feature for both Apple and Linux users. Opera does appear to be a very creative company and more importantly a very involved company where it matters. HTML5 and CSS3 looks set to change the way we browse the web for the better, however, it’s all still very much under development and it will take some time before all of these new features are accepted as industry standards and some of them are likely to change before they make it into the W3C’s big book of standards.S|A

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