New W3C working group to improve HTML

It has been almost seven years since HTML was last updated, and the general belief has been that it would be replaced by XHTML and never be updated again. That has now changed. In the blog post Reinventing HTML, W3C Director Tim Berners-Lee acknowledges that HTML needs to be kept alive and updated. Making people use XML failed, in large part because of overly forgiving Web browser software:

The attempt to get the world to switch to XML, including quotes around attribute values and slashes in empty tags and namespaces all at once didn't work. The large HTML-generating public did not move, largely because the browsers didn't complain.

Maybe getting the world to switch to valid HTML 4.01 Strict would have been a better, or at least easier, first step?

The W3C's plan is to start a new HTML working group that will work on HTML and XHTML at the same time, making incremental updates to both.

It's hard to tell if this is good or bad, and when we will see a new version of HTML. And after a new version (HTML 4.02? 4.1?) has been published there's the long wait for browsers to catch up before it will have any practical influence on the daily lives of web developers. But at least it will mean something is happening.

So, what do we want from the next version of HTML? Just off the top of my head, here are a few things I'd like to see:

  • User agents should not be required (or even allowed) to render quotation marks around the content of q elements.
  • New attributes that will make forms easier to validate: required for input, textarea, and select elements, maxlength for textarea elements.
  • The list of allowed type attribute values for input elements extended with search.
  • A caption element that can be used to group an image with caption text.
  • The reappearance of the start and value attributes for ol and li elements respectively.
  • Stricter, XHTML-like syntax: make lowercase required for all element and attribute names, make quoted attribute values required, require all end tags that are currently optional.
  • The menu element brought out of deprecation.
  • Require user agents to render 5px wide borders around all cells in table elements that lack semantics (i.e. only consist of table, tr, and td elements).

Ok, that last one isn't entirely serious, but it sure would reveal most layout tables pretty quickly.

Other voices on this:

What does everyone think? Is this good or bad? Does it matter? And what would you like to see in the next version of HTML?

Posted on October 30, 2006 in (X)HTML, Web Standards