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HTML5 Jumps Off The Drawing Board

Hope is finally at hand for developers weary of hypertext headaches.

After several years spent trying to persuade Web site developers and browser vendors to move to XML-based documents, the World Wide Web Consortium has resumed development of HTML, announcing in mid-January the first public working draft of the HTML5 specification.

The consortium, known as W3C, hasn't given up on XHTML 2.0, which strives for elegance and insists on correctness. But those developing HTML5 take a more pragmatic approach: Consider the problems plaguing Web developers today and try to make their lives easier--without rebuilding the core of the protocol.

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HTML5 detractors say the spec is not a step forward; they prefer the more elegant design of XHTML2, which is still under development. At some point, they argue, Web designers must be held to a stricter standard when developing sites. Yet the reality is that wide browser support is crucial for any Web standard to be useful, and XHTML2 is a more significant change for browser developers than HTML5.

And with no support for XHTML promised by Microsoft, elegance is proving a difficult sell.

TML5 should make life much easier for developers with ease of use and better backward compatibility, interoperability, and scripting. Not enough? How about local storage, less discrepancy across browser platforms, and better recovery when browsers run into bad markup.

The Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group, created by reps from Apple, Opera, and Mozilla, and the World Wide Web Consortium, both contribute to HTML5. Google's Ian Hickson is the document editor, and all major browser makers, as well as many Web vendors, are represented on working groups.

Backing from all major browser vendors means HTML5 will, eventually, become the standard Web developers will write to. Browser vendors are adding support for certain portions of the spec now.

For Web developers, this day has been a long time coming. HTML 4.01 was introduced in December 1999. The W3C released XHTML 1.0 as a successor to HTML 4.01, and followed with its latest standard, XHTML 1.1, way back in 2001. The intent of the W3C was to continue down the XHTML path with a release of XHTML 2.0, but the spec wasn't moving in the direction that several major browser vendors expected.

As a result, Apple, the Mozilla Foundation, and Opera formed the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WhatWG) in April 2004 to work on Web Applications 1.0, citing concerns regarding the W3C's progress with XHTML. Web Applications 1.0 was eventually renamed HTML5, and in April 2007 the WhatWG approached the W3C and offered its work as a basis for a new HTML standard. The W3C agreed.

There are significant changes within HTML5, including updates to ease interactive Web development. New elements include header, footer, section, article, nav, and dialogue capabilities to divide sections of a page more clearly, while advanced features include a "canvas" with a corresponding 2-D drawing API that allows for dynamic graphics and animation on the fly. HTML5 also eliminates some elements, such as frames and framesets, that have caused more usability problems than they were worth, although browsers are still required to support them.

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