The four new editors include two Microsoft employees, Travis Leithead and Erika Doyle Navara, Apple’s Ted O’Conner and Silvia Pfeiffer of Ginger Technologies, a company specializing in HTML video.
“The Chairs received a large number of applications for the position of HTML5 editor,” writes Cotton. “After evaluating all the applications, we chose the above HTML5 editorial team based on the individual qualifications of the new editors as well as the combination of the individual appointee’s qualifications.”
The heavy representation of Microsoft is interesting given that Microsoft is not currently a member of the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG), the other standards body that oversees HTML. It would seem that Microsoft is doubling down on the W3C version of HTML.
The editor change is part of the recent split that sees the two standards bodies jointly responsible for developing the HTML specification, moving in different directions.
The W3C and the WHATWG have long acted as separate bodies, but previously shared an editor, Ian Hickson, who helped ensure that the two specs remained in sync. Then last year the WHATWG announced it was dropping the “5″ version number and would work on HTML as a “living standard” sans version numbers. The W3C continued to focus on HTML “snapshots” like HTML5.
“The WHATWG effort is focused on developing the canonical description of HTML,” wrote when he stepped down as W3C editor last week. “The W3C effort, meanwhile, is now focused on creating a snapshot developed according to the venerable W3C process.”
The two standards bodies that are jointly responsible for developing the HTML specification have cut the final tie that was binding them together.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) began to move apart last year when the WHATWG announced it would drop the version number and work on a “living standard” sans version numbers. The W3C continued to focus on HTML “snapshots” like HTML5.
However, despite that split the two shared an editor, Ian Hickson, who oversees both specs. Or did. In an e-mail to the WHATWG mailing list, Hickson announced that he is no longer the editor of the W3C HTML WG spec. The change isn’t unexpected; in fact Hickson announced it would happen over a year ago, but it does emphasize the growing distance between the two standards.
“The WHATWG effort is focused on developing the canonical description of HTML,” writes Hickson on the mailing list. “The W3C effort, meanwhile, is now focused on creating a snapshot developed according to the venerable W3C process.”
With different goals for each version of the spec Hickson says that “the chairs of the W3C HTML working group and myself decid[ed] to split the work into two, with a different person responsible for editing the W3C HTML5, canvas, and microdata specifications than is editing the WHATWG specification.”
Now, more than ever before there seems to be two versions of HTML. The question for developers is, what does this mean for the future of HTML? In the short term, very little.
The W3C will continue to develop its fixed-in-time snapshot of HTML5 and the WHATWG will keep going with the “living standard” approach. What some developers fear is that down the road the two specs will diverge in significant ways and HTML will become a messy set of forked standards and varying browser support that lands us back in the bad old days of IE 6.
Anything is possible, but we remain hopeful that that won’t happen, at least in part because the W3C standard is more of a branch than a fork.
If all goes well the process will remain essentially as it has been for the last few years: a browser adds some shiny new feature, the WHATWG documents it and other browsers implement their own versions. There’s an awkward, sometimes frustrating period for web developers while browsers tweak and refine their support, but eventually the dust settles and a new standard is added to the W3C’s version. It may not be a completely ideal process, but it is what’s managed to bring us this far.
Web developers were given a green light Monday to start using HTML5.
Even though many are already using the still-unfinished language to code complicated web apps, the web’s governing body made the transition official by announcing that HTML5 will be complete by 2014.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has extended the charter of the HTML Working Group (HTMLWG) — the group charged with creating HTML5 — and announced that HTML5 will move to last call status later this year. After a couple of years of rigorous testing, the spec should be finalized by the second quarter of 2014.
“Developers can use HTML5 now and we encourage them to do so,” Ian Jacobs, head of W3C marketing, tells Webmonkey.
The web does not move at the pace of standards bodies, it moves at the pace of web browsers and innovative developers. No one, least of all the HTMLWG, expects the web to wait around for HTML5 to reach the official “recommended” status. Indeed developers are already using HTML5 and its related standards all over the web. HTML5 is here, even if it won’t be official for a few more years.
2014 may seem like a ways off, but it’s a much more promising timeline than 2022, which, despite never being an official date, is often cited as the one the W3C had originally targeted. Assuming the HTMLWG meets its goal, 2014 will mark the first official update for the HTML spec since HTML 4.01 was released in 1999.
HTML5 will give the web several new markup tags, like video and audio, the canvas element for animations and new semantic elements like header, article and aside, which give greater meaning to elements in webpages. Developers should note the 2014 date applies to the HTML5 spec only, not the associated APIs, like Geolocation or Web Workers, which are separate standards.
With a target date on the horizon, HTML5 is now entering the home stretch. Two years of testing still lie ahead, but the HTMLWG is already preparing to focus on the future — the next version of HTML.
Jacobs says the W3C has no plans to follow the WHATWG’s versionless path. “Many industries need stable versions [of the HTML spec]… they require stability in the standard and very high levels of interoperability.” In other words, aiming for a moving target like the WHATWG’s version of HTML isn’t for everyone.
That means there may well one day be an HTML6, but for now the W3C is using the unofficial moniker “HTML.next.”
However, while the spec itself may eventually expand again, Philippe Le Hegaret, the interaction domain leader of the W3C, says APIs are the future. “Not everything needs to be in the spec itself,” Le Hegaret tells Webmonkey. APIs already encompass many features frequently labeled HTML5, such as the Geolocation API, offline storage API and the Web Workers API.
The advantage of APIs is that development can move at a faster pace and new technologies can be finalized individually, without waiting on other elements in the spec.
That’s good news for the future of the web, since the pace of development is only accelerating. The web is no longer something on your PC, it’s on your mobile device and it’s starting to encroach on your living room.
Whether it’s in the spec or separate APIs, both Jacobs and Le Hegaret believe that at least some of the features in future versions of HTML may well involve the collision of the web and television. Netflix, Sony and LG all recently joined the W3C and are interested in what will happen as more televisions begin to connect directly to the web.
Television on the web will likely bring a new set of requirements — possibly new tags, new APIs and a whole new platform looking to implement them. Le Hegaret says that there have already been proposals for features in HTML.next, though nothing is official just yet.
In the mean time, look for HTML5 to reach last call status later this year. From that point the only thing standing between HTML5 and the 2014 finish line are thousands of tests to ensure that HTML5 works everywhere it should.
HTML 5 represents the biggest leap forward in web standards in almost a decade. Unlike the specifications that came before it, HTML 5 is not merely intended to present content to a web browser. Its goal is to bring the web into maturity as a full-fledged application platform — a level playing field where video, sound, images, animations, and full interactivity with your computer are all standardized. And it may be a long way off still, but elements of HTML 5 are already reshaping the way we use the web.
The last update to the Hypertext Markup Language — the lingua franca of the web — was the 4.01 specification completed in September, 1999.
Quite a bit has happened since. The original browser wars ended, Netscape dissolved. The winner, Microsoft Internet Explorer 5, begat IE6, which begat the current IE7. Mozilla Firefox rose from the ashes of Netscape to take over second position. Apple and Google have released their own web browsers. The minority shareholder Opera continues to play the gadfly while pushing standards and software design forward. We even have a real web experience on our phones and game consoles, thanks to Opera, the iPhone and Google’s soon-to-be-released Android.
But all that progress threw the web standards movement into disarray. Ideas for HTML 5 and other developing standards were more or less left on the cutting room floor. As a result, HTML 5 has been in draft form ever since.
Several interested parties have banded together to form the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (simply referred to as the WHATWG), an entity charged with picking up HTML 5′s pieces. It operates separately from the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C), which oversees web standards, and it includes representatives from Mozilla, the KHTML/WebKit project, Google, Apple, Opera and Microsoft. And although the draft may not be ratified for years, work on HTML 5 continues.
A new, sensible tagging strategy. Instead of bundling all multimedia into object or embed tags, video goes in video tags. Audio goes in audio tags, and so on.
Localized databases. This feature, when implemented, automatically embeds a local SQL database websites can read and write to, speeding up interactive searching, cacheing and indexing functions, or for offline use of web apps that rely on data requests.
Rich animations without plug-ins. The canvas element gives the browser the ability to draw vector graphics. This means configurable, automatic graphs and illustrations right in the browser without Flash or Silverlight. Some support for canvas is already in all the latest browsers except for IE.
Real apps in the browser. APIs for in-browser editing, drag and drop, back button “waypoints,” and other graphical user interface abilities.
Content presentation tags will be phased out, and CSS will rule.
In theory, HTML 5 is a breeding ground for new ideas for web standards shared among interested developers and browser vendors. But it’s all still experimental.
“HTML 5 is kind of an overloaded term,” says Mozilla vice president of engineering Mike Shaver. “It’s both sort of an incubator (at WHATWG) and the standards-based track at the W3C.”
Mozilla’s interest, according to Shaver, is aligned with the experimentation at WHATWG. “We’re very active in the HTML 5 group, designing and doing early implementations on those specifications and the work graduates to the W3C.”
In the past year, Mozilla has released several forward-thinking projects aligned with the emerging standards, including Prism, a system for running web apps offline, and Weave, a data storage framework.
Shaver says the HTML 5 movement was born out of impatience. Many sensed activity around web standards was stagnating as the W3C started directing its attention away from HTML and to another emerging technology, XML.
“A lot of new architectures — XML based work — were designed to replace HTML in the web,” says Shaver. “We were really not convinced that was the way it should go forward. We don’t think people should be throwing (web technology) away to get (the web) to go forward.”
Experimentation is now going strong in Firefox and WebKit-powered browsers like Safari and Google’s new Chrome, but there are growing pains.
Chrome developer Darin Fisher says that while Chrome was under wraps, a few things had to go. Despite using the latest branch of WebKit (the same branch to be used in the next version of Safari), the local database features didn’t make it into Chrome’s first release. Unfortunately, the safety and performance factors of Chrome’s isolated sandbox system, which enables faster and more secure browsing by partitioning tabs in memory and CPU process, would break the built-in WebKit database functionality.
Because it was developing in secret, the Chrome team was unable to get too involved in WebKit development.
“We couldn’t be engaged in the WebKit community without being involved with keeping Chrome a secret,” Fisher laments. “We share one vision, and we’re really excited to help WebKit in some way. We have a lot of experienced web developers (at Google). It’s really interesting what kind of challenges people are facing. We can bridge that divide a little.”
With the launch of Chrome, Fisher says his team members occasionally have lunch with the WebKit team. Some are even personal friends. Fisher claims they are eager to work with the other WebKit developers to fix some of these offline functions.
Included in Chrome is the Google-born and now open-source Gears, a piece of technology used for the same purposes as HTML 5′s offline features.
“Gears has a lot of great value. It’s best thought of as an alternative API already out there,” says Fisher. “HTML 5 is great if you have a newer browser, but what about the vast majority of users that have an older browsers? Gears is a vehicle to make this API available to older browsers. We’re working to match HTML 5 versions of these APIs.”
Fisher stops short of labeling Gears a stop-gap to HTML 5. “Gears is very compatible and supportive of HTML 5. It is on a trajectory to become another implementation, another platform that is to put HTML 5 on people’s desktops.”
The majority of work thus far has been by companies like Apple (through WebKit), Mozilla, Opera, Google and Trolltech.
So, where’s Microsoft? Internet Explorer has been famously slow to adopt web standards, let along the experimentation of HTML 5. But the tide is shifting with the emergence of Internet Explorer 8.
“I’m really looking forward to the work we’re starting to do to ramp up building a test suite in the HTML Working Group,” says Microsoft Internet Explorer platform architect and WHAT WG co-chair Chris Wilson in an e-mail.
Wilson says the Internet Explorer team is still a little wary of some of the proposals in HTML 5.
“I think all the members of the Working Group, particularly the editor, would agree we still have a lot of work ahead of us to flesh out the specification,” wrote Wilson. “Parts of the specification, of course, are more polished that others.”
IE8, currently in beta, already includes several new features from HTML 5, he points out. It has a cross-document messaging system, the local data store for client-side storage, a way to insert back button “waypoints” into web history and some offline event features to detect network outages.
But some stuff isn’t on the drawing board. While Wilson says canvas looks like a useful feature, it’s not in Microsoft’s plan for IE8.
Wilson believes there’s definitely a future in the specification.
“HTML 5 is huge, and is still under a lot of development as a specification. I think that the browser implementers, though, are working together to try to agree as quickly as possible; each browser chooses when to implement what, though, and will bring pieces online as they determine their user and developer base need it.”
Web developers and browser vendors alike can agree with Wilson on one thing: “This is certainly an exciting time, and we’re really pleased to see the renewed interest in the web as an application platform.”