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<The future of HTML, Part 1: WHATWG ⁄ >

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HTML isn't a very good language for making Web pages. However, it has been a very good language for making the Web.

HTML's ease of learning and the view source capability for browsers has bootstrapped the Web's popularity in an amazing way. The World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) involvement in standardizing HTML has ensured that Web browsers all implement the same dialect, more or less. The emergence of CSS, and the corresponding growth of standards-based Web design as best practice has also averted HTML chaos and led to a better Web experience for users and developers alike.

This much you probably know. The resulting Web has probably made a positive impact on your life or business. Yet the fact remains, HTML isn't a very good language. Why, for instance, does HTML have headings H1 through H6? Who ever seriously used a six-level-deep heading hierarchy? And why, in this era of 3D-accelerated graphics cards and sophisticated user interfaces, are Web pages limited to clunky text boxes and radio buttons for user input?

No surprise then, that various groups are pushing again to develop HTML in a way that lets Web publishing and Web applications use more of the technology that's available in modern user interfaces. Who are these people? Broadly speaking, they fall into three groups. The first are those who use today's technology to make a difference. This is what the Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (Ajax) buzz is about: using JavaScript and the browser's XMLHttpRequest object to create dynamic user interfaces. The effects can be wonderful, but this is not a standard way to move forward.

The other two groups focus on future improvements. The W3C promotes XHTML 2.0, based on the requirements of a broad vendor base -- not just desktop browser makers. XHTML 2.0 is seen as a radical step. In contrast, the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) promotes a set of incremental specifications, which evolve HTML to add the most immediately required functionality into the browser. Some WHATWG features are already implemented in Apple's Safari browser and Mozilla Firefox 1.5. (See Resources for more on W3C and WHATWG.)

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