Colin's Journal

Colin's Journal: A place for thoughts about politics, software, and daily life.

July 12th, 2004

A new HTML?

HTML 4.01 was published as a recommendation in December 1999. XHTML 1.0, the XML version of the same specification, was originally published in January 2000. Since then there has been a splintering of different HTML related activities. XHTML 1.1 consists of “modules” of XHTML subsets, that when added together form something very similar to XHTML 1.0. XHTML 2.0 meanwhile consists of a working draft that isn’t backwards compatible with previous variations of HTML.

Outside of the HTML world the W3C’s working groups have been busy designing all sorts of complex XML based standards, such as SVG and XForms. These new standards are not variations on HTML, but completely new markup languages. Web browser support for these new standards is almost non-existent, and so therefore, is their usage in web applications.

Model wearing vintage clothing.When building a web application today most authors write to the HTML supported by IE. If they don’t, and write to the standards, then they target HTML 4.01 or XHTML 1.0. As anyone who has tried to write a web based application will testify, creating a good user experience using HTML forms is very difficult.

Recently several web browser developers have formed a new group to define extensions to HTML, with the aim of improving the tools available to web application developers. The Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) consists of developers working for Mozilla, Opera, and Apple. As these extensions are formalised we can realistically expect them to be implemented in Mozilla, Firefox, Opera and Safari.

Unlike the new specifications coming from the W3C, the WHATWG specifications are enhancements to existing, proven technologies. Writing a web application that utilises these new extensions will be far easier than writing applications that utilise completely new technologies such as XForms.

If these extensions to HTML are implemented across the three main “alternative” web browsers, then we can be hopeful that web application authors will begin to use them. That in turn will hopefully lead to IEs grip on the web being loosened, and the pace of improvement of available web technologies picking up.

(Photo taken at the Vintage Festival)

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Copyright 2015 Colin Stewart

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