New W3C HTML Working Group launched

The W3C today announced the official launch of the new HTML Working Group that has been in the news since October last year, when Tim Berners-Lee blogged about the need to reinvent HTML.

As expected the initial chair will be Microsoft’s Chris Wilson, together with Dan Connolly from the W3C.

The working group will not be closed, as stated in W3C Relaunches HTML Activity:

Based on significant input from the design and developer communities within and outside the W3C Membership, W3C has chartered the group to conduct its work in public and to solicit broad participation from W3C Members and non-Members alike.

The new HTML Recommendation is expected to be finished by the third quarter of 2010. That’s 3.5 years from now.

This quote from the HTML Working Group Charter is also encouraging:

The HTML Working Group will actively pursue convergence with WHATWG, encouraging open participation within the bounds of the W3C patent policy and available resources.

I don’t know about you, but I think this is both important and exciting.

Posted on March 7, 2007 in (X)HTML, Web Standards


  1. “That’s 3.5 years from now.”

    This is the only thing I have a problem with. The W3C has a tendency to move with glacial slowness. I bet that extends to 4 years or more as well.

  2. I’m pretty sure I won’t be working in a technical/developer role in 3.5 years time where this will affect me. Probably won’t even be in the web/IT industry … I’m still planning on opening that cafe :-)

  3. It’s all very interesting and exciting.

  4. \begin{rant}

    A critical problem with the W3C is that it moves far, far too slowly to standardize areas that are popular and far, far too quickly to standardize areas that are not yet widely adopted.

    The W3C has forgotten that standards are evolved through market forces, not pre-defined by standards bodies. That might sound like blasphemy, but stay with me here; we need standards, but not in the way that the W3C is creating them.

    It is not (should not be) the W3C’s job to prescribe standards. Attempts to dictate standards prior to implementation have failed (e.g., XHTML, XForms, and half of WS-*).

    The W3C’s job is to document a common language that is already in use. That’s how the original HTML specs worked, and it’s how it should continue to work.

    The W3C doesn’t know what HTML needs to do. Academic eggheads will theorize and philosophize and create something that is useless. Only us web designers and developers know what we really need HTML to do on a day-to-day basis.

    We should not be afraid to invent CSS properties, invent tags, and invent protocols. We will judiciously use the most useful ones, and use JavaScript to gracefully degrade when they are not present. Then it will be obvious what we need the W3C to write down authoritatively. It shouldn’t go the other way around.

    It is obvious that we want opacity, rounded corners, better validation functions, date picker controls, and multiple columns. The market has dictated that; we have been writing JavaScript hacks for years; almost every browser has a custom extension for these things; so why hasn’t the W3C released a subset of CSS that does just those things and be done with it? CSS3 has been floating in Neverland for how long? What about freaking CSS 2.1? It’s a working draft. Wait, it’s a recommendation. Wait, it’s a working draft again. Fine, we don’t know what we’re doing.

    Drives me nuts. Absolutely nuts.

    Hope that little rant makes sense. Thanks for listening.


  5. See The WHATWG FAQ for a more accurate estimate of the schedule. No-one working on the spec actually believes it’s possible to finish the spec and get 2 fully interoperable implementations by 2010, I don’t know why that was incldued in the charter.

  6. March 8, 2007 by Gashin

    Interesting and exciting? They are saying that XHTML was not enough supported by browsers… which version? XHTML 2.0? yeah, it’s a draft, of course it’s not supported… XHTML 1.0 and 1.1? It’s HTML 4.01 with a proper syntax… the only problem is Microsoft Internet Explorer not supporting the MIME type to serve it as an XML file, which really does not change much… and their solution is… HTML 4.5…? (by a workgroup chaired by Microsoft…? you got to be kidding…).

    They also find XHTML complex… I have a hard time understanding how they find it anymore complex than HTML 4.01 tag soup… and they want to improve their validation service of this tag soup…?

    You find this interesting and exciting…?

    This has nothing to do with improving anything. If you want new things, check out XHTML 2.0, CSS 3.0, XML/XSLT… it sure is complex, because we don’t need all this things to exchange informations (which is what the Internet is, though it is today hiding under a huge pile of useless data, which generally make it harder to find anything really interesting), but it should would be far better than supporting something like HTML 4.5, which will never be used by anyone, because we are all moving to XML…

    … and this is pretty much what they are saying themselves: “XHTML has proved valuable in other markets, including the market for mobile devices, in enterprise applications, on the server-side, and in an increasing number of Web applications such as blogging software”… so what? who will use HTML 4.5? they want something simple to write pages? XHTML 1.0 is the way to go. It has a simple and standard syntax. HTML is tag soup. We all know it. Anyone working on standards, XML, HTML document parsing, or browser development knows how tag soup complexify everything…

    … and this is exactly what they want… to complexify everything, so no one will question their authority on the subject, and they’ll be able to keep their job, as all people working on Web development… (though it sure is not an happy life, for the people who are actually coding, because of huge compatibility issues, because of bugs, because of the number of different languages, etc.). It is what happened with politics (laws), it is what happened with science, it is what happened in every subjects of the human society. Do you believe it was for good? Are we really happy? Do you think adding more and more complexity, on rotten foundations, will resolve everything?

    Just hear them: “The markets for XML content are significant and growing, so W3C will define an XML syntax for the new HTML in addition to the classic HTML syntax”…

    Now what do they want? HTML 4.01, XHTML 1.0, XHTML 1.1 (and I’m leaving alone the two or three other versions of XHTML I don’t even know what they were for), XHTML 2.0… then HTML 4.5, and… HTML 4.5 XML…?

    What about CSS? Will there be CSS 1.5, CSS 2.3, CSS 2.5, CSS 2.8…? or maybe they want new presentational markup in HTML 4.5…?

    This is sick.

  7. March 8, 2007 by DigitaLink

    sigh Soooooo … by the time they have a recommendation/standard, the entire web landscape will have already drastically changed. Of course, we’ll STILL be trying to come up with hacks to make old standards-compliant code render correctly in IE.

    The earlier rant was pretty well put. Why bother making NEW standards, when the OLD standards still can’t be used correctly across all current browsers. What’s the point? So that those who want to stay on top of things can make all sorts of cool sites that will only partially render in most browsers, or fully render in one version of one browser during high tide and a new moon on the 4th Sunday of February in a leap year with a democrat in the White House.

  8. March 8, 2007 by Ryan

    Oh what a surprise, the W3C are moving on to a new toy already. How about they sort out all the standards they’ve been working on for years already!!! No I’m not impressed or excited about this in the slightest.

  9. March 8, 2007 by Niels

    I’m afraid I have to go with the rather negative sentiments above.

    Yes, in a way it’s exciting. But 3.5 years ? Really ? Any idea what the web will look like in 3.5 years from now ?

    It’s one of the most fastgrowing fields, not to mention unpredictable. When we needed rounded corners more than 5 years ago, we should’ve got them. We still haven’t.

    I’m not really a big fan of this “big step improvements”. Take little steps. Gradually introduce new CSS properties. Finalize the specs so browsers can implement them (and shouldn’t decide to go forward on their own, even if the specs aren’t finished yet).

    It seems we’re always solving problems that were hot five years ago, taking much needed time away to spend improving the web today.

  10. I hope we’ll all benefit from the discussion and that W3C succeeds to involve the industry as a whole to participate, or else I don’t think it’ll be good for much.

    I don’t really consider the distant recommendation the main point of this, though I don’t mind us playing around with the HTML concept quite a bit.

    To me, this is all about public relations and the great divide between web designers and W3C engineers. And if we don’t bridge the gap soon, I think the W3C will have very little influence over the future development of the web.

  11. That is, reinvent the W3C. And totally reinvent the standardization process.

  12. 3.5 years? Yeah right. IMHO they should first complete CSS 2.1 and 3.0, then finish XHTML 2.0 and then start on HTML 5.0. And have all of these finished by 2009.

  13. March 8, 2007 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    I fully agree that the process takes longer than I would like it to.

    However, I think much of the frustration expressed in these comments should be aimed at browser vendors (mainly Microsoft) instead of at the W3C.

    We have rounded corners. We have transparency. We have multiple columns. We have multiple background images. And so on. The problem is that some browser vendors haven’t bothered to implement what is currently defined in the HTML and CSS specifications (and I am aware that many of the CSS specifications are only in draft status but that isn’t stopping for instance Apple’s WebKit team from implementing them).

  14. Wow, I wonder what is a likely timescale for these making their way into browsers?

    I agree that the browser vendors need to be on top of the implementation as soon as possible when the new recommendation comes into being. I think it will be very important in the meantime that the browser vendors get up to date on the current recommendations.

  15. March 8, 2007 by Niels

    Draft status just isn’t good enough. Can’t blame browser vendors not implementing specs that are still in draft status. It’s like coding a draft of a website and then having to change it all around when new elements pop up. It’s annoying.

    There doesn’t seem to be a clear list of what is actually published as “standard - go ahead everyone and implement it”, and what is “good idea - working on it stay tuned”. CSS3 seems to be floating somewhere with nobody really sure what status it has. We all seem to be waiting for CSS3 to be finished, when important elements already seem to be ready for implementation.

    Probably the standardisation process should get a great overhaul. I’m not a big fan over the whole versioning idea. The net is a fastmoving place, it needs quick cures to problems. That doesn’t mean the standards should suffer in quality, but should rather be worked on and published on a case by case basis.

  16. I’d have to agree with @Niels on this one. Draft status is not enough for a major browser vendor to put time, effort, and a lot of money into supporting. I am not pro-Microsoft, but I don’t think CSS3 support in IE(7) is their fault.

    If they really want to push CSS3 support then the W3C needs to get their act together and finalize the standard. I know Safari and Opera support some of CSS3, but you have to look at the numbers on this problem. IE cannot simply pull out the rug from underneath 85% (I think that is the right figure) of internet users. Look at the small changes that IE7 made and how many millions of websites it broke.

    Full CSS3 support and full standards support would be a worldwide nightmare if IE implemented it to the letter. It’s sad because on one had I understand why they haven’t implemented the standards, but on the other I’d love to be able to use them.

  17. I think that a lot of the hard work for HTML 5 has already been done by the WHATWG, and I expect that the W3C will include a lot of the WHATWG’s proposals in their draft.

    Mozilla have already begun to implement some of the WHATWG proposal, and I expect Opera and Safari will follow shortly, if they haven’t already. But without Microsoft on board, all that work will be more or less in vain.

    Luckily the chairman of the HTML Working Group is MS’s Chris Wilson, and with Molly Holzschlag now consulting with the IE team I’m hopeful that they’re going to start taking web standards seriously.

  18. Is 3.5 years awfully long, like a lot of the commenters here seem to think? People who have actually been involved in making standards think it’s actually very short:

    • Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the Web, explains one reason why it takes time:

      There is the age-old tradeoff for any group as to whether to zoom along happily, in relative isolation, putting off the day when they ask for reviews, or whether to get lots of people involved early on, so a wider community gets on board earlier, with all the time that costs. That’s a trade-off which won’t go away.

    • The WhatWG, which has been doing a lot of work for 2 years and a half, says it will take “Around 15 Years”. Why?

      For a spec to become a REC, it requires two 100% complete and fully interoperable implementations, which is proven by each successfully passing literally thousands of test cases (20,000 tests for the whole spec would probably be a conservative estimate). When you consider how long it takes to write that many test cases and how long it takes to implement each feature, you’ll begin to understand why the time frame seems so long.

    Those who lament that years before this new HTML gets to a standard stage, can get involved and help make progress. The HTML Working group is open to all.

  19. I also agree with Niel about work being published on a case by case basis.

    Besides that, why really bother with another version of HTML when we should just look ahead to XHTML? Why constantly reinvent oneself in so many different varieties. I work for government and it is hard enough to sell them the virtues of valid code and semantic mark up. Most don’t understand and don’t even try to keep up with what the new technologies and programming languages are. If you ask me that’s one good reason why some browsers or most web developers won’t comply, they simply can’t keep up or couldn’t be bothered.

  20. If people don’t care enough to make their bog-standard HTML4 validate or to move to XHTML, it follows that they won’t care about moving to or creating valid HTML5 either. Which basically means that in a ‘best case’ scenario, there’s simply going to be another version of HTML that’s poorly coded littering the web, and it’ll be a version that (not being coded properly, and not requiring valid code) will address none of the problems that needed addressing, and already are addressed by XHTML.

  21. To he who said that browser makers (cough—Microsoft—cough) should be blamed for our x/html stagnation: I think it’s time we start saying To Hell with Bad Browsers again. It indeed is Explorer (from 5 on up to and including 7) that is holding everyone else back.

    Microsoft still owns the lion’s share of the market and they have little to no incentive to move on unless we start moving on without them. Why the U.S. had to be so weak in their anti-trust rulings is beyond me.

    I think it’s time we start deliberately using more advanced CSS and JS techniques, as much as possible on commercial sites, encouraging clients to use them. We’ll plan on a little graceful degradation for IE, but advertise to them what they are missing (that’s the part that isn’t happening in general)! Give them links on where to get any number of free and paid browsers that are years ahead of IE7 (Opera, Safari, Firefox, iCab, Flock, Camino, Shiira, SeaMonkey, OmniWeb, Konqueror, et al).

  22. @John Lascurettes: That’s fine for personal sites, but as the vast majority of my corporate clients use IE (and, indeed, many think that is the only browser!), there’s no way I could convince them to let me downgrade their site for the browser that they use!

  23. At this point in the evolution of the Web I’m even more jaded than I was in the mid-90’s. It’s already way past tense that the W3C and developers “in the wild” first became excited about a unified markup language (not to mention CSS and JavaScript), with the goal of dispensing with all this proprietary nonsense.

    That was, what? Seven years ago. And IE still doesn’t accept the XHTML MIME type and Firefox, which does, still doesn’t support incremental parsing and rendering. Now we have a camp that has reverted back to HTML 4.01. That’s moving forward.

    Now the so-called standards are about to get even more fragmented? Browser makers haven’t even caught up with recommendations agreed on years ago.

    No wonder Google serves soup.

  24. March 10, 2007 by Wulf

    @Peter Gasston: There’s an easy solution to that. Just call it “progressive enhancement” instead of “graceful degradation”. :)

  25. March 10, 2007 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)


    IE cannot simply pull out the rug from underneath 85% (I think that is the right figure) of internet users.

    How would adding support for new CSS selectors, properties and other features break anything (other than maybe some sites that make careless use of CSS hacks - but those sites had it coming anyway)?


    I think it’s time we start deliberately using more advanced CSS and JS techniques, as much as possible on commercial sites, encouraging clients to use them.

    Fully agree. We do this already when it can be done without leaving IE users too far behind.


    there’s no way I could convince them to let me downgrade their site for the browser that they use!

    But they wouldn’t know unless they compare the site in IE and a proper browser side-by-side.


    Browser makers haven’t even caught up with recommendations agreed on years ago.

    Well, isn’t that their problem, not the W3C’s?

  26. I think it is a very important and exciting issue. Alone a fact, that W3C finally recognizes that html and xhtml specifications are way too old, is a very important step. Having xhtml 2 under development, they create a parallel group which will compete and in a lot of ways have more support (after WHAT-WG work, think html5) then developed xhtml 2 standard. Having Chris Wilson on board will guarantee at least strong interest from Microsoft (some decisions, like strategy) are always up to execs), and if the W3C will be reasonable to collaborate with WHAT-WG we will have more then 98% of browser makers working on it. If everyone will be reasonable, in 2010 we will have a new standard finally. =O)

    I think we all desperately needing to move on , to include new functionalities, as web has grown much beyond 1996 or 1999.

  27. More specifically, I was saying let’s be a little less covert about the use of advanced JS/CSS and actually tell the end user about the enhanced experience they’d receive if they traded up their browser to any number of more advanced browsers.

    I don’t condone a regression back to the days of “best viewed in _.” Hell no. But I was thinking more along the lines of a message to the end user that “you’re getting every thing you need but you could get more …”

    If the amount of sites that did that reached a critical mass, I suspect the IE team would take bigger steps to move forward than they did with IE7.

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