As soon as you read HTML is the new HTML5 from Hixie, you knew that it would be fertile ground for people to discuss, argue, tease, and ridicule various sides… especially with this coming from WHATWG days after the HTML5 logo was unleashed by the W3C.
On one side you have people looking at the notion of a standard being alive as bizarre. Isn’t the point of standards to be able to say that multiple implementations support something in the same way?
On the other side you have people that say that the notion of a versioned standard on the Web doesn’t make any sense. How many browser implemented CSS 2.1 to the letter of the law?
What do developers want to see? The ability to know what capabilities they have at hand.
How do they work together? How can they be polyfilled? How uniform are the implementations?
This is a massive pain point right now. What does it mean to write an HTML5 experience? Some parts of HTML/CSS/JS are very well baked. Others aren’t. Developers have to work a lot of this out, and the community has built sites like html5readiness and tools like Modernizr.
In practice, to do something truly cutting edge, you have to do a ton of testing on various browsers. You want to just use CSS3 hardware transforms, but you find out that there are drastically different implications on desktop browsers, and when you get to mobile browsers the game that much more. Then there is hardware acceleration of Canvas on some browser/platforms. This goes on and on and on.
Cutting edge alpha developers can maybe keep up with some of this stuff, but Joe the App Developer may not be able too, and nor should he.
Wouldn’t he rather use a platform like iOS that has a very clearly versioned SDK that he can develop to? Surely that is much less painful.
There are trade offs though. In iOS, you have to wait for a beta SDK to play and find bugs. You are much further down the process that the Web, where you can step up and be much more active. And Web developers need to step up to be much more active. We need to be talking to browser vendors about what we need in the Web platform for it to compete, and for us to be able to deliver the experiences that we envision. We have the ability to influence our platform, so let’s make that trade-off worthwhile and not just sit and see what a particular standards group or browser vendors shows us.
I very much want to give developers a great way to see what they realistically build against on the Web platform. However, although the world took up the “HTML5″ mantle as the next “Ajax”, the HTML5 isn’t the right standard for this to play out. It has never been natural, because the Web platform is much more than “HTML”.
In fact, isn’t it ironic that “HTML5″ has become “a platform to build amazing Web applications” when much of the HTML5 spec started out by adding new tags that deal with document structure and not applications at all! sections. authors. navigation. headers.
Hixie mentions the Web Applications 1.0 specification. Something like this is more appropriate as a specification that can say “these are the things that the Web platform will give us”. Allow the HTML group to iterate in a way that they see fit, but out of that chaos we need something that can give an ordered solution to developers. And, if we have the “living standard”, we need the “living tests” that we can be continuously running on browsers. The tests will arm us with knowledge on a) how to use the APIs in many use cases, and b) tell us when regressions kick in.
So, we need to give developers a set of capabilities in the Web platform that they can rely on. What about the marketing angle?
HTML5 was laughed at by many practitioners, but it has traction with execs. They see HTML5 as a way to deliver cross platform solutions, as a way to get new disruptive experiences out to their users. The term is useful in many ways. Authors can write books on HTML5, but how do they write them on “HTML”?
In short, maybe we need some changes:
- We need a clear vision on where the Web platform is going, and how everyone can be involved.
- We need some notion of documenting what the platform as a-whole can do (thus: we need versions). Just as an iOS developer can see what 4.3 beta, we should have something similar. This will be an umbrella of smaller specs and versions, but we need something.
- We need rich tests that we can run against Web platform runtimes so we know what they have implemented from the platform standard
- We need to acknowledge the needs of multiple parties that keep the Web moving
Whether or not the HTML spec in the WHATWG is called HTML5 doesn’t really mean that much in the big picture. We need to solve the bigger problems. I hope that we don’t spend our time arguing over the politics of this or that, but on where we should go from here.