HTML has revolutionized the way we do just about everything. We buy plane tickets via Web pages rendered in HTML, we read the statuses posted by our friends and update our own status via HTML pages, and our applications exchange data using XML documents that are inspired by the example of HTML. Most of us even get our news and entertainment through the medium of the Web, where HTML has been king since the early days.
There have been several attempts over the years to reinvent HTML, including the introduction of Curl. I was personally involved in helping the company behind Curl develop its first sample applications many years ago. It has found its niche, but fell short of replacing HTML as the default medium for the Web.
There are, of course, the various add-ons such as Adobe Flash and Microsoft’s Silverlight, but none have come close to the success of the original Web delivery media. The original is what we call just plain HTML, though it is really HTML4—officially standardized in 1997.
Conventional wisdom is that if you cannot make something better, then the best course is to improve on the original instead. That wisdom has led us slowly to the development of HTML5. I say slowly, because it has been taking shape for many years now and has caused a great bit of infighting and posturing by the various stakeholders. In fact, even as of this writing, it has still not been completed officially, yet it is solid enough that the major browser makers have been adopting the features to a great enough extent that HTML5 development is here and real. Many of the earliest adopters predicted, and in many cases hoped, that this new style of application would undermine Microsoft’s position in the Web development world. Now, as you will see, even Microsoft has a story for leveraging HTML5. You can decide if the way it has allowed for HTML5 on its systems makes those predictions true or not.
HTML5 background and philosophy
The Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) is a group comprised of representatives from most of the various companies that offer browser software, including founding members from Apple, Mozilla and Opera Software. Because the W3C was not working on HTML5, but instead occupied itself with XHTML, this group took matters into its own hands by starting to work out the specification for the next version of HTML. In 2007, the W3C came around to the realization that HTML5 was the place to be and picked up the work started by WHATWG. The W3C has been adding its credibility to the effort since that time.
But the process has been fraught with politics and competing agendas. Chris Wilson of Microsoft was invited to join WHATWG but refused, reportedly over patent policy issues. Many viewed the entire effort as an opportunity to dislodge Microsoft’s position (with ASP.NET) in the Web technology world, but the real goal, now at least, seems to be to make Web development easier for everyone. The politics endangered that, but the good news is that it seems to be coming together now, thanks in large part to some well thought-out guiding principles that have helped build consensus.
Stephanie (Sullivan) Rewis of W3Conversions gave an “Intro to HTML5” presentation in which she outlined the philosophy for HTML5. I recommend it to anyone wanting to really develop expertise with the technology.
According to Rewis, one of the guiding principles for HTML5 is that if any browser maker does not agree to support a feature, then the feature is dropped. I assume that only counts for what we would consider major browser vendors, but she did not elaborate. In either case, I believe that this is important to make sure that fragmenting the browsers does not occur, something that I, as a Web developer myself, am very grateful to see in place.