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Is The Web Ready For HTML 5?

If Mozilla, Opera and Apple's Safari browser have their way, the HTML specification  could be getting its first major point update in a decade.

The three vendors have banded together in a proposal to the W3C for the HTML 5 specification, which includes Web Apps 1.0 and Web Forms 2.0 specifications and that it's also backwards compatible with HTML 4.

"HTML5 is about preserving the information people have accumulated over the years," Opera spokesperson Anne van Kesteren told internetnews.com. "By remaining backward and forwards compatible, we hope to ensure that people will be able to interpret HTML for decades if not centuries to come."

HTML is the foundation markup language on which the Web was and is built and was originally created by Tim Berners-Lee. The last major upgrade to HTML was in 1997 with the release of version 4.0. The HTML 4.0.1 recommendation was published in 1999.

The W3C, the standard body responsible for HTML, has been focused for the most part with working on the XHTML  specification with version one issued as a formal specification in 2000. XHTML 2.0 is now a working draft; XHTML is a hybrid of both XML  and HTML for Web markup.

According to Charles McCathieNevile, Chief Standards Officer at Opera, the W3C has effectively abandoned any effort to develop the HTML that has been used on the Web since HTML 4.01.

"That specification is still poorly implemented, in part because it is not very clear in a lot of cases how to implement it," McCathieNevile told internetnews.com. "We along with Apple and Mozilla felt that it was important to do something about this."

It is unclear whether Microsoft will support the HTML 5 effort with its Internet Explorer browser.The company did not respond to requests for comment.

If adopted, HTML 5 promises some tangible benefits for both Web users and developers.

"HTML 5 will enable better cross-browser compatibility and better support for "Web 2.0"-style Web applications in addition to documents," Brendan Eich, CTO for Mozilla, told internetnews.com. "HTML 5 also allows for better support for multimedia."

The Web Apps 1.0 specification, which would form a core part of the HTML 5 standard, is intended to provide features that make it easier to author Web-based applications.

Some of those additions include context menus, a direct-mode graphics canvas, in-line popup windows, and server-sent events.

The other core new element is from the Web Forms 2.0 specification, which extends the way that forms are defined. The proposed specification includes new attributes, DOM  interfaces and events for validation and dependency tracking as well as XML form submission and initialization. The specification also aims to document existing practices in the forms area that have not yet been officially standardized.

The Web Forms 2.0 specification has been in play since at least 2004. That's when Ian Hickson, then a developer at Opera, first helped to author the effort. Hickson now works for Google.

In their proposal to the W3C, Apple, Mozilla and Opera ask that Hickson be named as editor for the W3C's HTML 5 specification as a means to preserve continuity with the work that he's already done.

Continuity and standards are key to the message of why HTML 5 is important and why the three partners want to see it adopted as a formal W3C standard. "Having more Web applications based on open standards gives users more choice between Web browsers and between operating systems," Eich said.

Though HTML 5 is not yet a formal standard, HTML 5 technologies are already in both the Opera and Mozilla Firefox Web browsers.

Mozilla's Eich noted that Firefox 2 already provides support for client-side storage and has supported the "CANVAS" tag element since Firefox 1.5. Going forward, Mozilla is adding offline Web application support for Firefox 3.

Opera's McCathieNevile noted that Web Forms 2, an enhancement to the original HTML forms, are implemented in Opera, and are in use, for example, at my.Opera.com. The canvas element and API, which enables graphics to be rendered more quickly, is already implemented in Opera and can be seen in a large number of opera widgets such asArtist's Sketchbook (http://widgets.opera.com/widget/4647) and Circular Tetris (http://widgets.opera.com/widget/4196).

By working on the HTML 5 standard and implementing some of the items in it, the Web could well end up with an HTML standard that is actually effective.

"Active involvement helps us clarify implementation questions and ensure that the standards are implementable," McCathieNevile said. "If HTML 4 had gone through a "Candidate Recommendation" where it had to be implemented completely before it was published as a final version, it might be a much clearer and better specification."