Many folks who are just tuning into the HTML5 saga because of the battle between Adobe and Apple are surprised to learn that the push to create a fifth official version of the HTML specification began six years ago. And that's just the first half of the story because the latest implementations, while nice, are far from standards. The HTML5 demos from Apple, for instance, are impressive, but they only run well on Safari.

That's how slowly committees can work. The browser creators and other stakeholders have a big collection of ideas for improving the browser and the Web, and these are gradually coalescing into a fifth generation for the standard. But agreement takes time. Many of the new tags and JavaScript functions exist already as experiments on some of the browsers, but interoperability and standardisation are still to come. That's why the Flash groupies joke about HTML5 being a time machine to take you back to 2000.

While the jokes may sting and waiting for more general adoption is tiresome, it would be a mistake to simply ignore HTML5. There are not only powerful companies behind it, but there's also the standard process of technological development. The software, both browsers and tools, tends to absorb all of the orbiting extras, incorporating them into the main standard.

HTML5 will change many aspects of life on the web. It will not displace Flash or Shockwave: One glance at the games on, such as Jet Ski Racer, shows how much ground the HTML5 committee must cover. But HTML5 will still remake the web and enable basic websites to do much more, from tracking our location to storing more of our data in the cloud. HTML5 tags will displace plug-ins for simpler jobs, at least some of the time, and it will open up advanced capabilities to a larger audience. It might even make the web more secure, more efficient, and more adaptable.

To see where this new standard may take us, I collected the opinions from a number of developers, programmers, and designers. Here is an unordered list of ways that the web may change as HTML5 is gradually adopted and standardised.

HTML5 will reduce the importance of plug-ins

Once upon a time the web world liked the idea of a browser plug-in or add-on because it encouraged creativity and experimentation. Sounds, moving pictures, and other neat tricks appeared on the web first through plug-ins built by Sun, Adobe, RealAudio, Microsoft and many others. The plug-in interface was open to all, and everyone experimented with adding new features to the old, text-based world.

The battle over Flash may be the most famous skirmish, but the newer expanded powers of HTML5 also threaten other coding silos. JavaFX may be wonderful, but who wants to learn another syntax when JavaScript and the Canvas object will do the job? Who needs the Real ecosystem when the video tag will synchronise audio and video? Plug-ins like these are destined to be forgotten.

Will the idea of a plug-in disappear or fall into disfavour? Perhaps, but it depends on what you want to do. If drawing images is your goal, then the Canvas object may be powerful enough. But if you want to build specialised 3D worlds like the ones found in the more sophisticated Flash and Shockwave games, you may be pining for the old days when a plug-in could get direct access to the video hardware or run a 3D game world.

HTML5 will enable more interactive graphics

The old web loaded images by downloading a GIF or a JPG file. The new web can build an image on the fly in a Canvas object. A number of good graphing libraries have appeared, and all of them make a website's graphics much more interactive.

Now the JavaScript layer can compute values and draw pictures with the data. Everything can become more alive and much less textual, if the developer has the time and talent to create the solutions. Adobe is just beginning to make it simpler to develop sophisticated graphics for HTML5. The emergence of such tools will unlock additional capabilities, and the sophistication of the graphics will only improve as the tools mature.

There is a legitimate danger that all of this sophistication will overwhelm the poor client-side processors. In the past, some developers deliberately disabled the Flash plug-in to avoid the headaches and overhead of rendering heavy Flash content. That won't be an option in the future. Everyone who's been complaining about Flash may learn that the troubles had little to do with the technology itself, the problems came from the designers battling for our attention.

HTML5 will allow applications to tap local file storage

 Web programmers have always been able to store a surprisingly large amount of information in cookies (300 cookies of up to 4,096 bytes in IE), but to do real work you need more room. The early versions from the Dojo toolkit used the Flash plug-in to commandeer a section of the hard disk, but now the tools can simply use HTML5.

This storage can be used for anything the programmer wants, including undermining the entire cloud paradigm by storing data locally on the hard disk. This makes it possible to deliver and install applications that behave just like classic applications. Applications load their JavaScript code from the HTML5 offline application cache and start right up whether or not the web connection is working.

The technique does not need to undermine the hard work of cloud proponents, though, because the local databases can act like smart caches. Game programmers might store descriptions and artwork locally, saving the time of downloading the information again and again.

On the downside, these databases are buried deeply in the system folder, so making backups may not be the simplest step. Users who may want to move their local data from machine to machine will pull out their hair. Or perhaps we'll just see a hybrid cloud/local approach appear where the local machine caches the data but the cloud maintains a definitive version that can be accessed from different machines.