First look: Firefox 4 Beta 1 shines on HTML5

Sure, Firefox 4's new Chrome-like UI is nice, but the real story is under the hood

By Peter Wayner, InfoWorld |  Software, Firefox, HTML5

While it's impossible to sum up the thousands of enhancements and bug fixes both big and small, the Firefox 4 beta version brings the browser that much closer to taking over everything on the desktop. There are fewer reasons for anyone to interact with an extra plug-in or the operating system. Remember when people cared about whether a machine was Windows or Mac or a Commodore 64? Remember when software needed to be written in native code? Those days are fading away quickly as the browser is more able than ever before to deliver most of the content we might want.

You've no doubt heard about or even seen Firefox 4's new Chrome-like interface. More important are the many new features generally lumped together under the catchall standard HTML5, a specification that's still a draft but has become more of a rallying cry for AJAX, JavaScript, endless tags, and life beyond plug-ins.

[ Also on InfoWorld: HTML5 will spawn richer, more sophisticated websites while also easing development. Read about the nine ways HTML5's impact will be felt in "How HTML5 will change the Web." ]

Many of the enticing new features open up new opportunities for AJAX and JavaScript programmers to add more razzle-dazzle and catch up with Adobe Flash, Adobe AIR, Microsoft Silverlight, and other plug-ins. The CSS transitions, still "partially supported" in Firefox 4 Beta 1, give programmers the chance to set up one model for changing the CSS parameters without writing a separate JavaScript function to do it. The browser just fades and tweaks the CSS parameters over time.

There are plenty of other little parts of HTML5 that have been slowly arriving in previous versions of Firefox but are now being more fully integerated. MathML and SVG data are now a bit easier to mix right in with old-fashioned text. The Canvas and optional WebGL layers can create custom images at the browser without waiting for a server to deliver a GIF. A handful of new tags like <header> and <figure> offer a more document-centric approach, so the browser can present information more like the data on the printed page. The <figure> tag can be matched with a <figcaption> tag and the browser will keep the two together and try to put the results near the <mark> tag.


Originally published on InfoWorld |  Click here to read the original story.
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