File Under: HTML, HTML5, Web Standards

Meet HTML, The Spec Formerly Known as HTML5

It won’t be an unpronounceable symbol, but HTML5 is getting a Prince-style name change. From here on out HTML5 will simply be HTML — according to the WHATWG anyway.

Just a day after the W3C unveiled its new HTML5 logo, the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) has announced that it will drop the term “HTML5,” stop the versioning of HTML altogether and instead treat the evolving specification as a “living standard.”

While eliminating the version number from HTML has been part of the WHATWG’s plan from the beginning, the timing of the change is clearly related to the W3C’s attempt to embrace the term “HTML5.” The W3C recently showed off a new HTML5 logo, but the accompanying FAQ used the term HTML5 to cover everything from the actual spec to only tangentially related tools like CSS 3, WOFF and SVG. Many developers saw the W3C’s nebulous use of the term HTML5 as a sign that the term had become, like “AJAX,” just another marketing buzzword.

The W3C has since rewritten its FAQ to clarify and more sharply define just what HTML5 is and is not, but before that happened Ian Hickson, the WHATWG’s editor, announced that the WHATWG was renaming its spec to just HTML. Hickson says the WHATWG was “going to change the name last year but ended up deciding to wait a bit since people still used the term ‘HTML5′ a lot.”

Hickson then makes a not-so-subtle jab at the W3C, saying HTML5 “is now basically being used to mean anything Web-standards-related, so it’s time to move on!”

The W3C has long had a tenuous relationship with the WHATWG. Technically the W3C is the standards body charged with publishing the HTML spec. The WHATWG — a consortium of browser makers — grew out of the W3C’s neglect of HTML and its misguided decision to pursue XHTML 2. Now that both groups are working on the same spec, in theory, their goals are the same. In practice, however, the two groups often butt heads. In other words, just because the WHATWG has decided to abandon the term HTML5, don’t expect it to disappear overnight.

The W3C will continue to work toward “snapshots” that reflect stable milestones of the ever-changing WHATWG version of the spec. For now at least, that means the term HTML5 will be alive and well at the W3C, as the group works through its standard practice of issuing working drafts, holding last calls on changes and finally publishing the spec as a “recommendation.”

Since browser makers have long been well ahead of the W3C when it comes to implementing the latest and greatest parts of the HTML5 spec, they will likely focus on the WHATWG’s HTML spec, which will, like Google’s Chrome browser, follow a “rolling release” schedule.

No doubt the media and marketers will continue to use HTML5 as a buzzword that means far more than just the spec, but even that’s not always a bad thing. There’s no doubt that Apple, Google, the New York Times and everyone else who’s used HTML5 as an analog for the New Shiny has helped HTML5 — and all the other tools it’s come to stand for — gain momentum. As web developer Jeff Croft puts it, “sometimes we just need a word to rally behind.”

While not everyone understands the nuances of what’s HTML5, what’s CSS 3 and what’s just JavaScript, that doesn’t change the fact that everyone is excited about building a better web and that is exactly what HTML(5) is designed to do.

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