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Archived entry | Matt Wilcox .net

New W3C HTML Working Group activity

So, the W3C Relaunches HTML Activity. Roger Johansson is excited by this news, but I have to agree with the majority of his commentors. I’m not excited at all, I am in fact quite drained and disillusioned by this announcement. Why? Because this is exactly what we don’t need. There’s no requirement for another version of HTML. All we need is proper browser support of the current standards. XHTML was supposed to be a path into real XML, and the incredible freedom that means to produce semantically and functionally rich applications and documents. And, after sitting around doing not a lot of talking and even less doing for a very long time, the W3C decides to add another version of ye olden tag-soup era HTML? If only this were some nerdy joke. Haha! Oh how I’d laugh.

If I understand the report correctly, one of the arguments the W3C puts forward for resurrecting HTML is that XHTML has not been adopted quickly enough or well enough, and this in turn is because of browser manufacturer’s need to support ‘legacy’ HTML, which most of the web is still made from. Well, in and of itself that is a reasonable statement, but it doesn’t then follow to the W3C’s conclusion that they need to resurrect HTML. If the barrier to XHTML’s wide-spread adoption is seen to be ‘backward compatibility’ (which itself is an incredible statement, the point of XHTML is that it already is backward compatible), how is creating a new variant of bog-standard HTML going to help matters? Also, if there’s no incentive to move to XHTML what is the incentive to move to HTML5 (which, again, is supposedly backward-compatible)? If people don’t care enough to make their bog-standard HTML4 validate or to move to XHTML, it follows that they won’t care about moving to or creating valid HTML5 either. Which basically means that in a ‘best case’ scenario, there’s simply going to be another version of HTML that’s poorly coded littering the web, and it’ll be a version that (not being coded properly, and not requiring valid code) will address none of the problems that needed addressing, and already are addressed by XHTML.

In the current climate HTML is surplus to requirements. It’s Duplo in a Lego world, a world that’s supposed to be heading toward Lego Technics (if you will pardon the analogy). The W3C are proposing making some new Duplo, but in a different colour, and for no readily apparent appreciable reason. An argument that’s inferred (but not stated outright) is that XHTML is ‘complicated’ compared to HTML, and this ‘complicatedness’ hurts adoption of the standard by newbies and experienced HTML coders alike. This is yet another argument that is incredible to hear. XHTML is HTML, but with some stricter rules. How it can be judged as ‘complicated’ is difficult to understand, how it can be judged as complicated in comparison to HTML is impossible to understand.

My main complaint is that I do not understand why the W3C see XHTML and HTML as serving a different role, I don’t understand the need for HTML when XHTML is available. XHTML 2.0 (working draft) is intended to be generic. It’s applicable to almost anything. HTML isn’t. It’s a specialist dialect of a broken form of XML, and one that’s got no useful purpose. In an industry and climate who’s driving mantra has been ’standards compliance, ease of entry, accessibility, and interoperability’ how is creating two competing dialects of the same language in any way helpful toward achieving those goals?

I have no interest in watching the W3C spend another protracted 4yr stint producing a ‘recommendation’ that is highly likely to make bugger all difference to the web when it’s released, or even five years after that. It is my oppinion that those four years would be much better spent getting out there and talking with browser developers, web developers, and manufacturers in promoting the rapid adoption and enhanced support of the current XHTML and CSS standards.

So no, I’m not in the least bit excited by this.

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