HTML5: Can the center hold?

As work progresses on the next-generation markup language, ongoing disagreements call to question the ideal of a truly standards-compliant Web

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And markup isn't the only technology that has confounded those in favor of a standards-based Web. Earlier, the EcmaScript working committee -- the standards body behind the JavaScript language -- abandoned work on the proposed EcmaScript 4 standard, in favor of the much less ambitious version 3.1. In that case, too, objections from Microsoft contributed to the breakdown of talks.

Microsoft's issues with the HTML draft
So is Microsoft just working to undermine the vision of an open, standards-based Web for its own gain? It wouldn't be the first time, but Microsoft isn't alone in its current complaints. Regarding the EcmaScript fiasco, Yahoo's Douglas Crockford also came out in favor of scrapping version 4, arguing "the only thing we have to fear is premature standardization" -- a sentiment that seems to echo Microsoft's own concerns.

While some items on Microsoft's list seem like quibbles, others are valid issues. For example, Microsoft argues that proposed new tags such as <header>, <footer>, <dialog>, and <aside> seem arbitrary, and could easily be handled with an existing, more generic structure, such as <div>. In the cases of the proposed <keygen> and <menu> tags, Microsoft argues that the draft specifications lack the sophistication of existing, proprietary implantations of the same ideas, and as such the specifications are too inadequate for vendors to implement them in a consistent way.

Others in the working group support the proposed additions as they stand. Some of the new tags, they say, were added because of demand. If developers are consistently re-implementing their own versions of the <dialog> or <aside> tags, with the same goals but in inconsistent ways, it makes sense to build specific support for those ideas into the standard. You could also argue that more standardized tags could make it easier to repurpose such content for the semantic Web, should it ever materialize.

Is a pure standard too much to hope for?
Disagreements are an inevitable part of any standardization process. If everyone agreed, there would be no need to develop a formal standard in the first place.! But if disagreements lead to irreconcilable differences, it calls in to question the validity of the final standard.

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