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HTML 5 Hits First Public Working Draft

The W3C released the first public working draft of the HTML 5 specification this week, continuing the slow march toward a final specification expected by 2010.

This new HTML specification, when completed, will mark the first major revision to the HTML specification since 1999.

Work has been ongoing to develop an HTML 5 specification since 2004. In April of 2007, Mozilla, Opera and Apple got together with a proposal to kick-start the HTML 5 specification.

It's an effort that has now been greatly expanded.

According to the W3C, the HTML 5 effort now includes nearly 500 participants, including representatives from ACCESS, AOL, Apple, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Mozilla, Nokia and Opera.

"HTML is of course a very important standard," said Tim Berners-Lee, author of the first version of HTML and W3C Director in a statement. "I am glad to see that the community of developers, including browser vendors, is working together to create the best possible path for the Web. To integrate the input of so many people is hard work, as is the challenge of balancing stability with innovation, pragmatism with idealism."

The HTML 5 working draft has its roots in a pair of other W3C efforts, including the Web Apps 1.0 and Web Forms 2.0 projects. Among the proposed additions is the ability to draw two-dimensional graphics using the "canvas" tag. It will also add the ability to have persistent client-side data storage. Core page elements will also get a boost with new tags like "figure" that will be used for photo captioning.

A key part of the HTML 5 specification will be that addition of audio and video tags that will allow for easy embedding of multimedia content using HTML. Actually figuring out how to implement the execution of the audio and video tags, however, remains an open issue.

"There is debate over whether the specification should require support for a freely implementable video codec," Mozilla engineer David Baron told InternetNews.com. "We believe it should."

The HTML 5 specification itself is active and is continuously updated by its lead editor, Ian Hickson, who currently works for Google. Hickson explained to InternetNews.com that his daily edits can be found at http://www.whatwg.org/specs/web-apps/current-work/.

"That represents the latest version of the spec," Hickson said. "It updates as I edit it, which I do on a daily basis"

The first public draft represents a snapshot of the spec at the time given by the date in the address after rebranding the spec to have the W3C header on it.

"It became out of date as soon as it was published, since work continues daily," Hickson commented.

In Hickson's view there are a great many contentious issues still in the Working Draft specification. Hickson did not specifically identify any particular issues though he did note that most of the issues are clearly indicated as red boxes on the HTML 5 working draft itself. Additionally there is a very long list of the ongoing changes to HTML for which tracking is publicly available on the HTML 5 tracking site (http://html5.org/tools/web-apps-tracker).

For Hickson, HTML 5 isn't a hobby and it isn't simply a task that is part of a larger job for him either.

"Every day, every hour, I am continuously working on HTML5. It's my full-time job," Hickson said. "The next year or so will mostly consist of responding to the thousands of e-mails of feedback we have received over the past few years. We started in 2004, and have been collecting feedback since then."

While the working draft will certainly be important to the development of HTML 5, there are other things that will still need to be done for HTML 5 to actually work.

"Writing a specification document is just the first part of developing a solid specification," Mozilla's Baron said. " We also need test suites and we need browsers and other tools to implement the specification. And as that happens, and as authors begin using the new features defined in the specification, there will be a lot of feedback that will improve the quality of the specification."