The Death of XHTML2

Go to the W3C Web standards website and see the following headline posting:

XHTML 2 Working Group Expected to Stop Work End of 2009, W3C to Increase Resources on HTML 5

2009-07-02: Today the Director announces that when the XHTML 2 Working Group charter expires as scheduled at the end of 2009, the charter will not be renewed. By doing so, and by increasing resources in the HTML Working Group, W3C hopes to accelerate the progress of HTML 5 and clarify W3C’s position regarding the future of HTML. A FAQ answers questions about the future of deliverables of the XHTML 2 Working Group, and the status of various discussions related to HTML. Learn more about the HTML Activity

This is important because it shows that the W3C Committee is serious about promoting HTML 5. And HTML 5 is important because it is absolutely vital to the full emergence of Web 2.0 functionality in Web browsers. But HTML5 is being implemented in plugins and parts which are begginning to differ by Apple Safari, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera [note in contrast that IE8 does not have any significant HTML 5 code].

HTML 5 has many attractive features that are very important for the evolution of the Web – see here for the important take on HTML5 and here for why XHTML2 was displaced. But of even more import in the latter story on XHTML2’s demise is the following quote on the nature of XHTML2 and why it failed:

“The work on XHTML2 started at a time when the technology underlying the Web (as experienced by the bulk of users and content providers) was stagnating. Internet Explorer had a monopoly or near-monopoly in the Web browser market. Microsoft was slowing development of new versions of Internet Explorer in the hope that Web-based applications would not be able to compete with Windows applications, and Windows applications would keep people locked in to the Windows operating system.”

This is one of the first postings I have found that publicly acknowledges that Microsoft was deliberately working to delay Web browser progress during the 2001-2007 time period. It is also important because Ian Hickson, head of the W3C HTML5 working group is projecting a 2022 date before HTML5 will be “fully implemented”. This is hard to reconcile with the fact that 4 other major browser vendors [Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Opera and Apple Safari] plus Apple iPhone and Palm Pre have already implemented sizable chunks of HTML5.

Kind of makes you sweat when you see such a wide variance of opinion on a standard vital to Web development and Cloud Computing. It also makes one realize the importance of having some competing Web-enabled technologies like Adobe AIR/Flash, Java/JavaFX and Microsoft Silverlight. So maybe the death of XHTML2, the competitor to HTML5, will not be so critical after all.

3 thoughts on “The Death of XHTML2”

  1. David Baron isn’t working for Microsoft, so you will have to wait a little longer to get an official acknowledgement that Microsoft was deliberately delaying browser progress…

    When Ian Hickson refers to 2022 for fully implementing (X)HTML5 (it is actually longer than that), he means that more literally than has previously been the case (traditionally a spec became Recommendation when the parties had agreed what they wanted and maybe there were two sort-of-compatible implementations). The 2012 milestone for Candidate Recommendation is more in line with traditional milestones. At CR no substantial changes are expected. Such changes can still happen, in which case the spec would go back to draft.

  2. Jonny –
    Well maybe Bill Gates sort of acknowledged the delays when he issued before a MIX conference a one line Mea Culpa on the delays in getting IE upgraded – insisting that Redmond tried to get the funds for it… but “c’est dommage”. After this from the top, I don’t think you will get any thing else from Microsoft. However, because they continue to be stingy funding IE, it has become the worst browser by far yet continues to hold market share above 60%.

    This is due to corporates reluctance to switch a)due to the cost of retraining [yet IE8 forces that issue]; b)due to the large scale deployment and adminstration tools available in Windows Server to support IE8; and c)the persistence of sites that run IE-only HTML/CSS/JScript. Also a factor is that every Windows machine comes preloaded with IE [changing in EU]. Finally, many free/donated machines to libraries and schools come preloaded with IE and in our area the agreement does not allow any other browser to be loaded.

    Now as for the time horizon projected by Ian Hickson [of Google] for 2022 before HTML5 gets “fully implemented” – I can relate to that prediction in two ways. First, look how long it has taken for HTML4, CSS upto 2.1 and JavaSCript up to 1.5 to get partially implemented – 10-12 years? But also we know who is most proprietary and tardy in doing so… hmmmm, the company near Bellevue Washington.

    Second, HTML5 is a huge and pervasive change to HTML/DOM/XFORMS, etc. But third and most significantly, I could not understand why Google gave itself until Fall 2010 to get Chrome OS out the door. Having already done Android – what could hold them up? HTML5. I think Google is going to have almost all of HTML5 ready to go in the Chrome OS for 2010. If Google Android powered Netbooks has not already created the new NetInfoBook category, then the Chrome OS machines will surely do so. I saw two students from Scotland on the train the otherday – and they were using Asus EEE netbooks to travel light and keep info at their fingertips. The Asus EEE didn’t quite have the battery life they wanted but is light and when running Linux is very fast. As a bloated Windows 7 tries to force fit itself Netbooks – there is a real opportunity here. Even Steve Jobs who has already said Netbooks are a dead concept is rumored to have a NetTablet ready for launch in the Fall.

    So yes I agree with you – I expect the HTML5 standardization process to G R I N D   O N ; but I suspect all the browser vendors but one will have implemented major chunks of HTML5 … about this time next year.

  3. Parts of the core specs will be slower to change as more and more depend upon them, so we can expect a general slowdown, but there is also another force at work.

    When CSS 2.1 was proposed we fully expected it to become a recommendation a year or so later. After all it was merely to subtract the parts of CSS 2 that weren’t in use. Nothing could be simpler, right? But that included looking at how CSS was implemented, and while CSS 2.0 was essentially a feature description list, CSS 2.1 has gone into often excruciating detail in what this actually meant. This, and W3C comments that forced it back to working draft several times, is what has taken it so long. HTML5 is doing this from the beginning. In addition an exhaustive testing suite is planned (for which he allocates ten years), a suite not truly made for CSS 2.1 yet, not to speak of CSS 3.0.

    It has been claimed that browser vendors are deliberately slowing down the HTML and CSS specs, having worked for one of these I would say that is not the case with these two. For all specs politics play a role, and arguably Microsoft slowed down or downsized ECMAScript 4 (JavaScript is not a standard). Browsers won’t stop developing their browsers based on progress in standards committees, but when and how matters for interoperability, why we have standards committees to begin with.

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