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Intel backs 'overhyped' HTML5 for cross-platform app dev

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IDF 2012 HTML5 is overhyped, slow, and insecure, says Intel senior VP of software and services Renée James – but Chipzilla thinks it's the future of software development anyway.

During her Wednesday keynote speech at the Intel Developer Forum 2012 conference in San Francisco, James said there really is no other technology available that offers developers as many opportunities across as many different platforms and operating systems as HTML5 does.

"HTML5 is designed to be a cross-platform technology," James said, "and while I know there are a lot of differing opinions, we all agree it's been very overhyped, and like most technologies early on it had some troubles."

Nonetheless, she said, HTML5 is the only modern development platform that can enable what Intel calls "transparent computing," which James said is about allowing user experiences to seamlessly traverse architecture and operating system boundaries.

"Transparent computing is the core of how users view the experiences in compute today," James said. "It's about enabling what they want to do. They don't care about the operating system. And sadly, as much as [Intel] would like it not to be the case, they often don't care about the hardware architecture, either."

HTML5 makes transparent computing possible, James said, mainly because of its sheer ubiquity. It allows developers to offer similar user experiences across a wide range of devices, ranging from desktop PCs to smartphones and other mobile devices.

What's more, developers are jumping onboard at a rapid rate. According to James, 40 per cent of application developers are using HTML5 today, and another 40 per cent say they plan to use HTML5 and its related standards and APIs in the near future.

That just leaves all of the problems with HTML5, which James says Intel is working on.

Intel has already done "substantial work" to improve the performance of HTML5 and its related technologies, she said, such as helping to build GPU acceleration for 2D and 3D graphics into web browsers.

She also gave a nod to the "River Trail" parallel extensions for JavaScript, which Intel collaborated on with Mozilla. River Trail is available as a Firefox plug-in today, she said, but eventually the technology will be built into browsers.

To address security concerns, James was joined onstage by Michael DeCesare, co-president of McAfee, the security outfit Intel acquired in 2010. DeCesare reminded the crowd that McAfee has 240 dedicated engineers working on hardware-assisted security, which he said was a bigger headcount than the entire R&D organizations of most security companies.

DeCesare then had an assistant demo a McAfee app that allowed Facebook users greater control over who could download photos posted to the social network. "It's kind of like a condom for your digital life," she quipped.

This was all well and good, but your Reg hack notes that none of it is particularly new. The River Trail stuff debuted in 2011 and doesn't seem to have moved very far since then, and McAfee announced the beta of its Facebook app – which is hardly revolutionary – in August.

As for Intel's grand vision of cross-platform development, how well HTML5 apps span platform and architecture boundaries is also in dispute. James's comments came following an earlier IDF tech session by Intel director of content planning Kim Pallister, who said actual HTML5 standards compliance varied widely between devices, especially when it comes to emerging categories like Smart TVs.

James acknowledged these problems, at least in part, by noting Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's comments from the TechCrunch Disrupt event on Tuesday, where he described the social network's focus on HTML5 as "the biggest mistake we made as a company."

"We have a little bit of work to do on that front, as well," James said.

But for all her hand-waving about how many developers will be using HTML5 to build transparent computing systems in the future, James's speech contained few details about just what Intel plans to do to help them do it.

She did say that Chipzilla was readying "a specific program on HTML5" that would "help you write applications across multiple enviroments," but that it wouldn't launch until Q4.

"Transparent computing seems pretty far away from where we stand today," James said in closing, "but we have always believed that the future of computing is what we make it." ®

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