File Under: Web Basics

HTML 5 — A New Language for a New Web

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What does the future of web markup look like? We get a glimpse of HTML’s next major overhaul in "A Preview of HTML5," an essay published today on A List Apart.

In the essay, Opera Software’s Lachlan Hunt gives an overview of what’s broken with existing markup and what the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C) is doing to try to fix it.

The proposed HTML5 specification is the brainchild of the W3C and the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group, commonly known as the WHATWG, pronounced "What working group". This is a group made up of people from Opera, Apple, Mozilla and Microsoft, and its emphasis is on the transformation of the web from a largely static repository for text and images (the web of today) into a platform for interoperable applications far more inviting and easy to develop for than current standards allow.

For example, the HTML5 spec argues for new tag structures for embedding common API calls, recurring page elements and audio and video media types. If implemented correctly, these proposed standards would be a huge improvement over player-specific embed codes and browser-specific hacks.

This is all pretty head-in-the-clouds stuff, and the optimism of the WHATWG is being greeted with a bucket of cold water by many in the web development community. Check out the comments on Reddit.

Jkkramer sees blue skies: "For those of us in the web industry, HTML 5 brings all sorts of benefits: more simplicity, accessibility, predictable implementations. And it’s based on evidence of what web developers are already trying to do with existing tools, not based on the ideas of architecture astronauts."

But 325i counters: "We’re already struggling to implement and maintain standards across the entire Internet, and adding an overly complex, interface-based markup system to the mix is not going to help anyone. Generally, we need to stick to what we currently have with XHTML, which is an information-based markup system."

The WHATWG would argue that XHTML isn’t quite up to snuff, but they’re not proposing a quick fix, either. The group sees 10 to 15 years as a realistic timeline for widespread, interoperable adoption of these proposed standards. That may seem like an extremely long time, but look at the current state of the web’s infrastructure and how interoperable HTML 4, CSS and XHTML are.

Through that lens, ten years doesn’t seem like much of a stretch.