Among Web developers, anticipation is mounting for HTML5, the overhaul of the Web markup language currently under way at the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C). For many, the revamping is long overdue. HTML hasn't had a proper upgrade in more than a decade. In fact, the last markup language to win W3C Recommendation status -- the final stage of the Web standards process -- was XHTML 1.1 in 2001.
In the intervening years, Web developers have grown increasingly restless. Many claim the HTML and XHTML standards have become outdated, and that their document-centric focus does not adequately address the needs of modern Web applications.
[ For more on HTML5's potential impact on proprietary Web technologies, see "HTML5: Could it kill Flash and Silverlight." | The InfoWorld Test Center investigates how well the new Microsoft Silverlight 3 and Adobe Flex 4, Flash 4, and Catalyst rich Internet technologies measure up, and provides an in-depth comparison of eight PHP IDEs. ]
HTML5 aims to change all that. When it is finalized, the new standard will include tags and APIs for improved interactivity, multimedia, and localization. As experimental support for HTML5 features has crept into the current crop of Web browsers, some developers have even begun voicing hope that this new, modernized HTML will free them from reliance on proprietary plug-ins such as Flash, QuickTime, and Silverlight.
But although some prominent Web publishers -- including Apple, Google, the Mozilla Foundation, Vimeo, and YouTube -- have already begun tinkering with the new standard, W3C insiders say the road ahead for HTML5 remains a rocky one. Some parts of the specification are controversial, while others have yet to be finalized. It may be years before a completed standard emerges and even longer before the bulk of the Web-surfing public moves to HTML5-compatible browsers. In the meantime, developers face a difficult challenge: how to build rich Web applications with today's technologies while paving the way for a smooth transition to HTML5 tomorrow.
Modernizing HTML for the rich Web
Rich applications and HTML have not always been a natural fit. The father of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee, envisioned HTML as "a simple markup language used to create hypertext documents that are platform independent." With the advent of XHTML, the pure XML formulation of the language, the W3C maintained this focus on Web pages as documents, with the proposed XHTML standards emphasizing such issues as document structure, compatibility with XML tools, and Berners-Lee's vision of the Semantic Web.