Tim Berners-Lee, the W3C director and inventor of the Web, recently made a blog post announcing plans to charter a new HTML working group to make incremental additions to the HTML standard. In his post, he acknowledged problems with getting the Web switched over to XHTML, and determined that such a progression must be done more gradually.
Some things are clearer with hindsight of several years. It is necessary to evolve HTML incrementally. The attempt to get the world to switch to XML, including quotes around attribute values and slashes in empty tags and namespaces all at once didn’t work. The large HTML-generating public did not move, largely because the browsers didn’t complain.
One of the chief problems with the adoption of XHTML is the complete lack of support by Internet Explorer and a number of search engines and other user agents. As a result, webpages that are marked up as XHTML are often sent to the browser using the
text/html content type instead of the proper
application/xhtml+xml content type, thus causing browsers to treat the page like HTML instead of XHTML. This has lead to lots of “bad” XHTML that, if a browser was to attempt to treat like real XHTML, would completely fall apart. More problems with XHTML are discussed in the Beware of XHTML article.
Tim Berners-Lee also mentioned the advent of the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHAT WG), an open standards organization that works separately from the W3C in attempt to more immediately address the interests of real-world web applications developers. WHAT WG is lead by Ian Hickson, who has participated in the development of both Opera and Mozilla products and currently works for Google. WHAT WG has received some criticism that it has departed from the ideals of the semantic web and some of the foundation of today’s established standards. Largely through Ian Hickson’s influence, Opera and Firefox have over the last few versions added support for a number of features in WHAT WG’s Web Applications 1.0 specification.
Berners-Lee hopes that with the chartering of the new HTML working group, parties that are interested in the development of the HTML standard will return from separate efforts like WHAT WG back to the W3C process.
The plan is to charter a completely new HTML group. Unlike the previous one, this one will be chartered to do incremental improvements to HTML, as also in parallel xHTML. It will have a different chair and staff contact. It will work on HTML and xHTML together. We have strong support for this group, from many people we have talked to, including browser makers.