Ian Hickson, head of one of the standards groups charged with creating HTML5, caused quite a stir over the weekend when he alleged that Adobe was trying to block HTML5.
Adobe quickly denied the charge, but not quickly enough for the open web evangelists to grab their pitchforks and take to blogs in anger. After all, it was a juicy turn of events — big company with a vested interest in its own tech (Flash, in this case) tries to block a competing technology on the free, open web. It all ended up sounding like some conspiratorial, back-room maneuvering worthy of an Oliver Stone film.
The truth is considerably more complex and, dare we say, kind of embarrassing. In fact, dig a bit into the internal workings, back-stabbing, petty snipping and politics of both the W3C and the WHAT WG, and you’ll quickly come to realize it’s nothing short of a miracle that HTML5 exists in any form at all.
This particular tempest in a teacup revolves around an e-mail from Larry Masinter, Principal Scientist at Adobe, questioning whether the Canvas 2D element, the RDFa specification and the Microdata spec were within the scope of the WHAT WG’s charter.
The answer to that is hashed out in some detail on the WHAT WG’s public mailing list. The short version seems to be that no, they probably aren’t, but WHAT WG decided to include them in the spec anyway.
As far as we can tell, no formal objection was ever lodged. Though it certainly sounds like Masinter is planning to file one when he writes:
If I need to use the word “formally” in there somewhere, or if there’s some “Formal Appeal Change Proposal” form I’m supposed to fill in, recapitulating all of the e-mail arguments made to date, suggesting the documents “change” by disappearing, and written in iambic hexameter, please let me know.
However, Masinter has since said that neither he nor Adobe has filed or intends to file any formal objections. Perhaps more importantly, even if Masinter were to do so, it’s hard to see how that would “block” HTML5. Masinter (and some others) merely object to HTML5, Canvas 2D and other specs all being lumped together, not to the specs themselves.
So how will all this hoopla impact HTML5 and the web that we mortals actually use? The answer is, it won’t.
Regardless of what the W3C ends up doing with the Canvas 2D spec and other sub-elements of HTML5, browsers are already supporting them. Certainly it would be good if these elements became an official part of the HTML5 spec, but whether or not they do will have very little impact on the web as we know it. After all the HTML5 spec won’t officially be finished until 2012, but HTML5 is already changing the web since all browsers but IE are supporting it.
The reality is that, for all their blustering and antics, neither the W3C nor the WHAT WG ultimately have much practical impact on HTML5′s adoption on web. For that, we rely on browsers and the various HTML5 elements they chose to support.