Toward HTML 6.0: W3C to Pursue Next Web Language

With a mandate to consider the proper direction for the evolution of the lingua franca of the World-Wide Web, the W3 Consortium this morning officially re-launched the HTML Working Group. Its mission will be to deliver an updated HTML, for use by both stand-alone and XML parsers, by the last day of 2010.

When the new Working Group was announced last October, Web creator Tim Berners-Lee wrote for his personal blog, "It is necessary to evolve HTML incrementally. The attempt to get the world to switch to XML, including quotes around attribute values and slashes in empty tags and namespaces all at once didn't work. The large HTML-generating public did not move, largely because the browsers didn't complain."

So the new group will work toward building an incremental plan for developing both HTML 4.0 and XHTML (considered by some the unofficial "HTML 5") on parallel tracks, so that both the XML-based version and "classic" version of the language coexist.


In addition, the new group will apparently consider the absorption of subsidiary standards such as XForms (which provides standard widgets and controls for interactive pages), APIs for direct manipulation of linked media and other content, and a possibly updated Document Object Model.

But one major question arising from this W3C launch is, will everyone participate together? There are some important mitigating factors to consider:

  • In 2004, a coalition of interested parties, including browser makers Mozilla, Opera, and Apple (Safari), collected together to form the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHAT WG). Together, they declared a version of HTML as "HTML 5," then branded XHTML in parallel as "XHTML 5." This group describes its charter members as "increasingly concerned about the W3C's direction with XHTML, lack of interest in HTML and apparent disregard for the needs of real-world authors." Berners-Lee characterized WHAT WG as having formed out of the need to re-create an accountability process for Web standards, "though it did not have a process or specific accountability measures itself."
  • Last January, the W3C picked Microsoft's Chris Wilson, the former group program manager of the Internet Explorer Platform team, to serve as the new Working Group's chair. Anyone who feared the Working Group's endeavors would be generally ignored until the W3C itself faded into the background, has since had his fears quashed.
  • Influential parties and trusted voices in the Web standards community have raised objections not just to a Microsoft representative, but anyone associated with a Web browser manufacturer serving in a leading position with the new Working Group. CSS Working Group member and Nvu co-author Daniel Glazman's principal fear, as he wrote last January, is...well, that press sources like us would pounce on the irony and give the W3C negative attention. "I know Microsoft already had W3C chairs in the past - or even present," Glazman wrote, "but the HTML WG is different in its very high visibility, and I certainly fear the 'Microsoft puts its hand on HTML' press articles we're going to face."

As Glazman feared, last January, headlines on Web design blogs read, "New W3C HTML Working Group Chaired by Microsoft," and similar phrases. Swedish Web developer Roger Johansson wrote for his blog, "I am very uncomfortable with a Microsoft representative being the chair of what is possibly the most important Working Group of the W3C, and definitely the most visible one."

Not all the responses to Wilson's appointment were negative. One author of the Kickass Web Design blog wrote, "I know you're going to think I'm nuts, but this may not be a bad thing. Chris is the one person at Microsoft who seems to be listening to the dev community...If he didn't work for Microsoft no one would be arguing about his qualifications. He's one of the good guys. How he ever ended up working for MS is beyond me, but I for one am glad he's there, since without him we would have a much, much nastier IE7."

For his own part, Wilson sees his initial task as bringing together two, if not three, splintering factions of developers, fusing their charters and arguments together toward a common goal.

"I believe as initial chair of the HTML WG, it would be my personal responsibility to be the glue between the W3C and the WHAT-WG," he wrote for his blog last January, "and I would hope in the eventuality of time the WHAT-WG would simply dissolve because it's no longer necessary. I don't question that the W3C is not what it needs to be today to allow that to happen; in fact, that's why I personally pushed to do something drastic about the HTML WG.

"I do want to be clear though," he continued, "that in my opinion HTML is not in the hands of the WHAT-WG and never has been, despite calling a spec or set of specs 'HTML 5'; it belongs to the W3C. Their stewardship of it over the last few years has been wanting, but that's the point of the (new) HTML WG. The right thing for us to do is to evolve HTML 4.01. Let's go do it."

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