HTML5: what does it mean for capital markets e-commerce?

Web technology has been evolving without pause in the 17 years since the first commercial browser was released. HTML5 (and the closely related CSS3) are the latest frontier in that evolution, and promise to give browsers native capabilities equal to or surpassing those available via plug-ins such as Flash and Silverlight. After years of work, the HTML5 standard is now pretty much nailed down.

Even better, all popular browsers other than Internet Explorer now support it – and with the imminent release of IE9, even Microsoft is stepping up. It seems likely that most firms will go straight from IE7 (or IE6, for the real Luddites) to IE9, bypassing the stop-gap IE8 completely.

So if you’re building a trading app in a browser, what does HTML5 offer you? Here’s a quick summary of some key benefits, with thanks to Ian Alderson, Caplin Trader Product Manager.

  • Web Sockets – provided they iron out all the kinks,Web Sockets should provide the ideal connection type for streaming real-time data
  • Web Workers – although the main browser thread is the only one allowed to interact with the DOM, you can pass off all other work, such as message parsing, to web workers to utilise the multiple cores that are ubiquitous these days. The result: better performance, lower latency and greater predictability.
  • Application Cache – pre-HTML5 solutions to this had to rely on a combination of the base tag and cache control settings. HTML5 replaces this home-grown functionality and additionally enables applications to work offline (potentially useful if the application is running on a mobile device that may experience transient connectivity issues)
  • Local/session storage – if the application can’t access the web server, layouts and other information can’t be saved. Local storage could be used to save layouts to the local browser database, then submit them (possibly the next time the user logs in) to the web server
  • Canvas – great for building graphical displays such as charts. Although Canvas has been supported in Firefox for a long time, IE has been stuck with VML
    Video/Audio tags – no need for external plug ins (provided the video is using the right codec), easier to embed video/audio content
  • CSS Transitions – pretty much had to be implemented in JavaScript previously, now a whole load of effects can be done in CSS and they look great
  • Stacks of CSS eye-candy – things such as rounded corners that previously could only be done using images

The bottom line: HTML is on the brink of being widely supported, and it’s going to help browser-based trading apps look great and work even better.

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