HTML5 and JavaScript tools: What could (and should) Microsoft do?

I'm hearing Microsoft may be gearing up to deliver new standalone dev tools for building HTML5 client applications, and also may be adding HTML5 support to Visual Studio. Could Mix '11 be the launch pad for these efforts?
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft has been beating the HTML5 drum increasingly loudly as its HTML5-compliant Internet Explorer (IE) 9 browser approaches the finish line. Company execs have said HTML5 is central to the company's cross-platform strategy. And IE 9 is seemingly at the heart of Microsoft's tablet push.

So what is Microsoft going to do, as far as putting its HTML5 development muscle where its mouth is?

Right now, Microsoft provides a number of HTML5, CSS and JavaScript tooling as part of Internet Explorer (as of version 8). With IE 9, there will be even more of these so-called F12 tools for creating, testing and administering IE sites.

But from tips I've been getting lately, Microsoft is poised to take things up a notch -- and might even announce some of its new tooling plans at the Mix '11 conference in mid-April.

Potentially on deck are new standalone tools and libraries for creating HTML5 client applications. There also could be additional support coming inside Visual Studio -- beyond what's slated for VS 2010 Service Pack 1 -- for HTML5 and JavaScript. (The final version of SP1 is slated for some time in the first half of calendar 2011.) An aside: The Microsoft browser programmability team at the company has, as part of its charter, the creation of "Visual Studio-caliber tools for HTML5 client development across IE and Windows."

"The only tools you should have to use to do HTML/JavaScript work are the browser and a good text editor. In-browser tooling helps make this feasible," said Andrew Brust, founder of Microsoft analysis and strategy provider Blue Badge Insights.

However, Brust added, "That said, there absolutely needs to be good HTML5 tooling in Visual Studio. The trend toward markup-intensive work with ASP.NET MVC and ASP.NET Web Pages with Razor makes this all the more urgent. Since developers are starting to move away from ASP.NET WebForms server controls (which could encapsulate the HTML 5 rendering and corresponding JavaScript), developers really need the helpers to assist them in writing the new markup and script that HTML 5 requires themselves."

Brust said he could see screen-design tools for the <canvas> tag, and SmartTag dialogs or other GUIs for working with the <audio>, <video> and other new tags being appreciated by Visual Studio developers.

Scott Barnes, a former Softie and founder of FIXWPF.org, said he'd expect any new Microsoft HTML5 tooling story would "likely to have Expression Blend/Web team’s involved given their current experience in this area."

"The tooling would need to complement Adobe software more so than the way Expression Blend and Web have in the past," Barnes said, "as that’s where the hearts and minds of designers are today."

"The last time Microsoft approached these folks, they wanted to drag them across kicking and screaming to the way Blend / Web works," Barnes said. "It didn’t work and has failed miserably. This time, they need to dig deeper and work harder to complement Adobe technology in order to combine .NET and HTML5 (with PHP sprinkled in for server share)."

If Microsoft does end up fielding new tooling for building HTML5 apps, the new tools won't usurp the place of the current F12 tools, Brust said. Some devs may only need the existing tools; others may use the full set.

"IE and Visual Studio each need HTML 5 dev tooling," he explained. "And while there is certainly overlap in the feature set each should have, they do in fact serve different audiences. The IE tooling would be for general diagnostic work with HTML and script on the client; the VS tooling would be for .NET developers building substantial Web server applications that also provide HTML 5 on the front-end."

I asked Microsoft officials for comment on talk that new HTML5 and JavaScript tools may be on the docket and didn't hear back. If/when I do, I'll add any comments they provide. In the interim, what do you think Microsoft could -- and should -- do around HTML5 dev tools, going forward?

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