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SD West: HTML 5


The web has moved forward in the last eight years, but no thanks to HTML standards, according to Elliotte Rusty Harold, who spoke this morning at SD West on the upcoming HTML 5 spec. Harold's point was that, until recently, the W3C had essentially made no move since 1999 to improve the HTML spec—instead, technologies like Javascript, CSS and the DOM have dominated advances on the web for most of the last decade.

But in 2004, fed up with the lack of W3C progress on this issue, Apple, the Mozilla Foundation and Opera Software formed the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group, or WHATWG, to move HTML forward. The work done by WHATWG has since been brought under W3C auspices, but most of what constitutes the current state of the HTML 5 was formed outside of the W3C.

So if we've lived this long without an updated HTML standard, do we really need one? If we want to bring HTML more in line with what we actually use the web for today, then the answer is yes. According to WHATWG, some of the things for which we've been using kludgy workarounds for years really need to be brought into the HTML standard as first-class citizens.

This is the thinking behind some of the proposed new elements. For instance, the audio and video elements. Certainly, if someone were designing HTML today, they would include such tags alongside the familiar img tag. There are, however, problems. While everyone involved can agree that the audio element should support MP3, no one can quite agree on a video codec. According to Harold, the spec may be finalized without specifying a supported codec.

Much of the proposed HTML 5 standard includes things that people are already using div and span tags for. One such item is the section element, which is a generic mechanism that can be used for dividing documents into chapters or parts. Each section would have a mandatory heading (in h1 through h6 tags), and sections could of course be nested inside one another.

Also of note in the new spec is the notion of a graphics canvas, the implementation of which is lifted straight from Apple's Safari browser. It provides a mechanism for procedural graphics calls via Javascript. Javascript also plays a prominent role in some of the proposed interactive elements. Notable among these is the datagrid element, which provides for interactive data representations such as editable tables and lists.

According to Harold, finalization of HTML 5 is at least a year or two away. For more information, visit http://www.whatwg.org/.


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