Opera CTO talks future Web standards

Håkon Wium Lie, CTO of Opera Software, visited the InfoWorld offices last week to discuss the Web, the future of HTML, and the latest features of his company's Opera browser.

Håkon Wium Lie, CTO of Opera Software, visited the InfoWorld offices last week to discuss the Web, the future of HTML, and the latest features of his company's Opera browser.

Lie, the father of the CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) specifications for Web page layout, still believes strongly in an open standards-based Web. Though he's not a great fan of the XHTML specifications, which he said tend to "punish the good guys" by being overly pedantic, Lie said that new HTML features being developed by a group called WHAT (Web Hypertext Application Technology) could add capabilities to standards-based browsers that could allow them to compete successfully with proprietary technologies like Flash.

"Some of us call it HTML 5," he said, "but I don't think the W3C particularly likes that."

Among the new capabilities Lie demonstrated were Web pages based on the CANVAS tag, a proposed extension to HTML that allows Web developers to manipulate areas of the screen directly, like a deskop graphics application developer would. He also showed a page that delivered audio via the HTML code itself, something that has previously been difficult to do without third-party plug-ins.

In each case, he noted that Opera was first to support these next-generation capabilities, but that other standards-based browsers, such as Firefox and Safari, were also likely to support them soon (and in some cases they do already).

By comparison, Lie had little complementary to say about Microsoft's handling of the HTML standards. Even Internet Explorer 7, he said, is but an iterative development of an outdated design that offers only poor standards compliance.

"It's a catch-up game that Microsoft is playing, and that's holding everybody back," Lie said. He added that the amount of time Web developers have had to spend "debugging Microsoft's applications" over the years adds up to a tremendous cost to society.

What do you think? Is HTML in need of an overhaul? Is standards compliance important for your Web applications development needs, or do you go with what works?

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