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Why Apple is betting on HTML 5: a web history

HTML timeline

Daniel Eran Dilger

Despite making the vast majority of its money from hardware sales, Apple is investing heavily in shaping the future of software. One example of this pertains to HTML 5 and related web standards.

Why Apple is betting on HTML 5: a web history
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While the standard isn’t yet finished, Apple is already using HTML 5 as an important component in the company’s strategies, ranging from the iPod touch and iPhone’s mobile browser to Safari on the Mac and PC, from Dashboard widgets to new iTunes LP content, and from MobileMe apps to the latest iTunes Store.

Critics have complained that HTML 5 won’t be finalized until 2012, and that its completion might be irrelevant anyway because Microsoft is unlikely to ever support the new standard within Internet Explorer. Others wonder if the world really needs any changes to the language underlying the web.

in reality however, many features of HTML 5 are already in widespread use. Apple didn’t wait for the final draft of 802.11n before implementing support for the new WiFi standard, and hasn’t waited on a final draft of HTML 5 either. Microsoft has also opened up official participation on the HTML 5 standard, indicating serious interest in working with Google, Apple, Mozilla and other companies backing the specification.

But to really get an accurate picture of why HTML 5 matters and how its adoption will change the future of the web and software in general, you have to take a look at the squabbling drama of contention that HTML 5 is emerging from as industry rivals work to achieve a new level of consensus on how the web should work.

WebKit and friends

The Origins of HTML

HTML (HyperText Markup Language) was initially developed by Tim Berners-Lee starting in 1989 as a way to deliver the features of ENQUIRE, a private hyperlinked information database he had worked on for CERN a decade earlier, as an open, distributed application that could work across the Internet. The resulting system, prototyped using the advanced development tools of the NeXT Computer, became known as the World Wide Web.

The new web defined HTML as an application of SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language), an existing ISO standard used to structure documents with markup commands in order to facilitate the transfer of files between different systems. SGML’s use dated back into the 60s as a way for governments, industry and the military to structure complex documents in a way that was unambiguous and could be accessed and modified by automated systems.

SGML markup embedded in a document can be used to annotate presentational features (indicating where text should be bold, for example) procedural features (adding processing instructions along the line of PostScrip drawing commands), or descriptive features (defining parts of the document that could be interpreted in multiple ways for different purposes, such as citations and footnotes).

Depending on the intended use, these forms of markup might be blurred together for simplification (resulting in a basic way to create a web page designed exclusively for human browsing), or may need to be rigorously kept distinct (allowing for a flexible document that can be automatically updated or interpreted by a screen reader for the blind, as well as being rendered for basic human viewing).

The lines between presentation, procedure, and description would become a hotly debated subject for HTML as different viewpoints on the subject, each with a different objective in mind, began to clash.

Launched by private-public cooperation

In order to draft HTML as a recommendation to the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) standards body in 1993, Berners-Lee needed to provide an example of an actual implementation of HTML. He cited the Mosiac browser being developed at the American NCSA, which had been funded by congressman Al Gore as a part of a broad effort to promote the development of high performance computing and communications by leveraging the power of market forces using strategic government investment.

The completely open nature of HTML, backed by government investment in critical implementation work, enabled Berners-Lee’s new web to completely overturn the pockets of incompatible, proprietary Internet services that were in the process of dividing users up between the silos of AOL, CompuServe, GEnie, MSN, and similar offerings.

HTML’s public definition as an open standard allowed anyone to to set up a server with web page documents that any web browser on any platform could display. As the reality of this tremendous new potential began to sink in, Microsoft realized that the web would not just be a threat to its proprietary new MSN service, but would also be used by companies to reduce their dependance on Windows, allowing them to buy products from any vendor. This sparked its war with Netscape on the implementation side, but there would also be wars on the web standards side.

HTML 2: Who’s in charge?

After the original HTML draft, along with the HTML+ expired in 1994, the IETF set up the HTML Working Group to begin work on HTML 2. At the same time, Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) with the overlapping intent to shepherd the development of web standards in general. The HTML 2.0 IETF specification was released in 1995 to codify a variety of new changes and serve as a foundation for future web development.

In 1996, the IETF closed its own working group and essentially delegated the task of managing HTML to the W3C. Much of the work of developing the HTML 2 standard had been based on simply recognizing the extensions various browser developers had originated on their own, rather than actually laying out an optimized, well-conceived way to achieve specific goals.

The lead developer at Mosaic, Marc Andreessen, had left the NCSA in 1993 to set up Netscape as a private enterprise to develop his personal concept of where the web browser should go. Netscape began creating its own extensions to HTML without any discussion with the larger community, a problem that risked derailing the open nature of the web itself.

Netscape was primarily interested in rapidly creating a way to deliver web pages that could catch the attention of consumers, so the additions it began adding to HTML included tags the specified things like a background color for the page, or specific font faces for text. To academics, this inappropriately mixed presentation into a standard that ideally should only present descriptive semantics of how the document was organized.

If this continued, HTML would stop being a flexible document format that could be interpreted for different purposes, and simply become a clumsy way to render an specific document view for a single purpose: a web browser running on a desktop PC. Defining a background color in HTML, for example, might result in a page design that is difficult to render for blind users, while specifying a specific font size or face could prevent the document from being properly scaled up or down to fit the client device being used.

HTML 3: so many standards to choose from

In 1995, the W3C floated a draft of HTML 3, which intended to formalize a variety of emerging features including supporting the needs of math and scientific documents. Among the other new features included in HTML 3 was support for tables, based on a request by the US Navy to accommodate tables of data used in its complex documentation.

As HTML 3 branched out to serve the needs of virtually everyone, browser vendors with limited resources began to pick and choose what elements of the specification they could or would implement. This resulted in different browsers supporting different subsets of the “standard,” while they also each added unique, non-standard features of their own.

Meanwhile, Netscape’s leadership in the browser market was challenged by Microsoft, which in 1995 licensed the original Mosiac code and began forking it off in a new direction in an effort to prevent the web from being defined by group of companies (primarily Netscape and Sun) that had a vested interest in breaking up Microsoft’s grip on the PC operating system market.

To keep ahead of Microsoft, Netscape continued adding its own proprietary extension to HTML. One example is the concept of HTML frames, which allowed a browser to display multiple independent web pages together within the same screen. After adding frames to its Navigator browser, Netscape submitted the idea for inclusion into the HTML specification, essentially precluding the community from being able to discuss merits of the idea or its implementation.

By the end of 1996, Microsoft had scrambled out the third major release of Internet Explorer in just a year, a frantic pace that was clearly designed to tie the future of the web to Windows. IE 3.0 added support for ActiveX, a way to build complex interface controls within web pages that would only run on Windows. Netscape added its own implementation of ActiveX and added a scripting language named JavaScript, which IE matched with its own compatible JScript.

With Netscape and Microsoft racing to outdo each other in unique features, the glacial pace of the sausage-making deliberation on how to best implement HTML as an interoperable standard began to run aground. The bottom of the barrel was reached with Netscape’s BLINK tag, which Microsoft matched in silliness with its own MARQUEE tag; both unplugged HTML from the goal of delivering serious documentation presentation and instead targeted the web at replicating the garish desperation of gaudy neon signs in a red light district.

Meanwhile, the IETF continued work on its official HTML 2 specification, adding support for features such as international characters, tables, and image maps. The challenge of defining a minimum official standard while also allowing for both rapid independent innovation and the potential for a well-conceived future roadmap everyone could agree on began to seem like a nearly impossible effort.

HTML 4: getting on the same page

However, the WC3 managed to broker high-level consensus on important issues within a series of regular meetings held between representatives of Netscape, Microsoft, Sun and other involved parties invited to participate a new HTML Editorial Review Board.

Among the common ground established was the decision to exclude BLINK and MARQUEE tags from the official HTML specification and plans to deprecate support for Netscape’s presentational markup features in favor of using CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), which would separate web presentation from the purely descriptive elements of HTML.

Using CSS, a web author could create HTML documents that can be rendered on screen, targeted for printing, voiced by a screen reader, or otherwise interpreted in different ways. There were two problems: first, Netscape’s tags had already mingled presentational and descriptive markup together for most existing web pages; second, browsers would need to add new support for CSS specifications in addition to HTML.

CSS 1 supplied a way for HTML documents to describe elements according to a given style (such as “heading”), rather than a specific presentation (“helvetica bold 16 pt”). A CSS file would supply the presentation details, which the user or browser could substitute to suit their needs, such as using a different typeface or reading the text with a different inflection. CSS 1 also enabled styling for text, graphics, and table alignment.

To enable HTML 4 to emerge cleanly from the existing HTML 3.2 specification released in early 1997, the new HTML 4 allowed both “transitional” pages, which allowed earlier conventions of deprecated tags, and new “strict” pages that adhered to the CSS approach of separating description from presentation details. HTML 4 was launched at the end of 1997, followed by the clarification of HTML 4.01 at the end of 1999.

In addition to the separation of description and presentation, W3C’s HTML 4 also codified procedural aspects of web documents, standardizing both the JavaScript language for performing client-side interactivity and the DOM (Document Object Model) for representing and interacting with objects described in HTML. The “HTML 4.01 strict” specification was then published as an ISO standard in 2000.

Microsoft actually pioneered support for the new HTML, CSS, and JavaScript web standards, in large part because it had killed off Netscape by bundling IE with Windows. The vast amount of work required to develop a new browser from scratch erected significant barriers of entry for new competitors, and the ubiquity of IE seemed to offer no market-based incentive for anyone to try.

After a flurry of rapid development throughout the 90s, there would be no practical advancement of HTML for almost a decade.

HTML timeline

XHTML 1: specification perfection failure

The W3C decided to take HTML 4 in a new direction starting in 1998 with XHTML 1.0. Rather than being a form of SGML, the new specification forced HTML into the stricter subset of XML (extensible Markup Language), requiring semantic changes that were relatively minor.

Rendering existing HTML documents had become extremely complex due to HTML’s flexible ambiguity. By imposing the strict rules of XML formatting on HTML documents, the W3C hoped to achieve two goals. The first was the ability to create, modify and render HTML documents using XML tools; existing HTML was too sloppy to be reliably parsed by machines without a very complex rendering engine aware of HTML’s many exceptions.

The second benefit of moving to XML was the potential to modularize specialized markup, freeing the HTML spec from having to define how to mark up specialized math or scientific content, which could instead be defined independently using a specialized XML grammar, such MathML. An XHTML document could simply reference an external definition for marking up a specific bit of such content.

However, the move from HTML 4.01 to XHTML 1 introduced new complexity that few had any real reason to master. Additionally, Microsoft now had no effective competition left in the browser market, so it had little reason to invest in making IE XHTML-compliant as opposed to adding support for more practical new features such as CSS 2 or solving the serious security crisis that had resulted from rushing ActiveX to market.

Without support for XHTML in the browser most people were using, there was little reason for most web developers to upgrade their sites to support the new standard. Attempts made to transition to XHTML often resulted in complex new problems without delivering any real benefits, so most web developers returned to using HTML 4.01.

XHTML 2.0: standards for nobody

Faced with the reality that IE and its 90% share of the browser market would never support XHTML, the W3C decided in 2002 to begin publishing drafts of a new XHTML 2.0 specification that killed any pretense of backward compatibility with HTML 4 or XHTML 1. This greatly simplified the scope of the project, but made the new work almost completely irrelevant to anyone.

As the W3C continued along this trajectory, the competitive landscape began changing dramatically. Netscape had been reborn as Mozilla, and its new Firefox browser began to pick up new users dissatisfied with Microsoft’s virtual abandonment of its own web browser after IE 6 was released in 2001.

By the time IE 7 was launched at the end of 2006, Firefox had become a viable, popular alternative on the PC, and Apple’s new Safari browser had evicted IE entirely from the web-significant Mac platform. Opera was similarly staking out a specialty niche among mobile browsers, where Microsoft’s terrible Pocket IE offered opportunity for alternatives.

A growing contingent of increasingly important players on the web, led by Apple, Mozilla and Opera, began looking at how web standards could be advanced to support open, vendor-independent, standards-based alternatives to the then existing landscape of the web, which was increasingly becoming dominated by proprietary Flash content that relied upon a separate plugin to render it, effectively turning the open web back into a proprietary system like AOL had been in the late 80s: closed, buggy and slow.

Convinced that the web would never effectively transition to XML, Mozilla and Opera proposed that the W3C drop its XHTML efforts in favor of extending HTML 4 in more practical new ways that focused on rich web apps, and limit the use of XML to new technologies such as RSS. “We consider Web Applications to be an important area that has not been adequately served by existing technologies,” the companies wrote in a position paper. “There is a rising threat of single-vendor solutions addressing this problem before jointly-developed specifications.” W3C members voted the idea down.

WHATWG launches HTML 5

The glacial and mostly irrelevant progress being made on web standards within the W3C resulted in Apple, Mozilla, and Opera joining together in 2004 to start up the independent WHATWG (Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group), focused on advancing HTML, CSS, DOM, and JavaScript to serve as a viable platform for rich web apps.

WHATWG was pointedly designed to bypass Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight, and Sun JavaFX and return the web to its open roots. in order to achieve that goal, it needed to modernize the HTML specification, which hadn’t really progressed since 1999. Additional work was also required to adapt the DOM and advance JavaScript with APIs to provide rich web app features more akin to desktop applications, such as drag and drop, advanced drawing, and offline editing.

In 2007, WHATWG recommended its specification of HTML 5 for adoption by the WC3 as the new starting point for the future of the web in place of XHTML 2.0. This time, the W3C accepted the proposal and a new HTML working group was subsequently formed. In January 2008, the first public working draft of HTML 5 was published.

The future of HTML 5

HTML 5′s proponents determined to solve a series of issues that had plagued previous efforts to advance the HTML specification. The working group affirmed the practical necessity of backward compatibility, the importance of specifications matching the implementation (as opposed to creating laws that aren’t and won’t be obeyed), and the need for the specification to be clear and unambiguous enough so that individual vendors can actually achieve full interoperability.

It’s important to note that HTML 5 isn’t one big difficult leap like moving from Windows XP to Vista, or from IPv4 to IPv6. According to Google’s Mark Pilgrim, the HTML 5 specification is simply a collection of detailed feature implementations that browsers can support. In fact, some browsers already support features like geolocation, local storage, offline apps, canvas, and the new audio and video tags. Apple’s Safari 4 and mobile Safari on the iPhone already do.

Unlike the early days of the web, where browser developers impatiently added features and then asked the standards bodies to recognize them, today’s browser vendors are impatiently waiting for new specifications to be defined so they can complete support for them in their browsers. By focusing on practical features that can be implemented by anyone, HTML 5 is capturing the attention of everyone in the web industry, from open source vendors to Microsoft.

Vendors on HTML 5

Vendors’ stance on HTML 5 is predictably based on how they will be affected by it. For example, both Mozilla and Opera are highly motivated to push HTML 5 because it enables them to compete on a level playing field in the browser market rather then being shut out by either proprietary plugin developments that only work on certain platforms (like Flash), or web pages coded specifically for a specific browser.

Apple is highly motivated to push HTML 5 because it enables the company to compete in rich media delivery on the web (against Flash), create rich web apps in MobileMe, support third party rich web apps on its iPhone and Mac platforms, and reduce its exposure to incompatibilities and security issues related to third party web-alternative plugins such as Flash and Silverlight.

Google is highly motivated to push HTML 5 because it allows the company to deliver rich new web apps that can better compete against desktop alternatives (such as Office), creates a level playing field for all web browsers to foster competition, eliminates its need to use Flash for serving YouTube videos, and allows the company to deliver Chrome OS as an alternative to a conventional operating system on PCs.

Despite the potential threats to Office and Windows that HTML 5 delivers, Microsoft also sees the need to participate in HTML 5 because its browser share has now dipped to around 65%. The biggest chunk of Microsoft’s IE users, as of August 2009, are still using IE 6. That means while IE leads other browsers in the total number of users, it does not lead in terms of setting new standards anymore. More people are now using Firefox 3 than IE 8; both were released last year.

Adobe on HTML 5

The biggest critic of HTML 5 has been Adobe. When asked about how HTML 5 might be an opportunity or threat to the company during an earnings conference call this summer, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen answered, “I think the challenge for HTLM 5 will continue to be how do you get a consistent display of HTML 5 across browsers. And when you think about when the rollout plans that are currently being talked about, they feel like it might be a decade before HTML 5 sees standardization across the number of browsers that are going to be out there.”

In realty though, history shows that HTML standards were either adopted almost immediately or never. Even the fear that Microsoft might never get around to adding support for HTML 5 features is hard to argue, both with the company’s expressed interest, its previous efforts to apply web specifications when it had a competitive need to do so, and the capacity for third parties to extend IE to support many of the features in HTML 5. That’s essentially what Google Gears does.

Once Adobe realizes it can make more money selling authoring tools for HTML 5 than it can in catering to a dwindling group of Flash designers, its outlook is likely to change dramatically. That shift from plugin maintenance to standards-based tool creation will enable the company to rely upon a platform created by the community, largely Mozilla and WebKit, rather than trying to implement its Flash, Flash Lite, and AIR runtimes on different hardware platforms and within different browsers. Because clearly that isn’t working.

32 comments

1 Hypothesard { 09.19.09 at 9:17 pm }

Thanks for the Roundup

2 Dorotea { 09.19.09 at 10:45 pm }

Daniel,
Congrats on the publication of the Wiley book!

3 JohnWatkins { 09.19.09 at 10:54 pm }

Death to Flash!
Long live open standards.

4 peter.s { 09.20.09 at 4:55 am }

Adobe needs a little bit more competetion – so come on Apple, bring a powerful and easy to use internet authoring tool by your own. Only if the developers have a real choice, HTML 5 will win.

5 Berend Schotanus { 09.20.09 at 5:48 am }

Absolutely great article

6 Jon T { 09.20.09 at 6:07 am }

Hooray!

As usual the story fits neatly into a nutshell, saving us weeks of research which none of us would ever do!

Thanks for a great article Dan. There is more knowledge presented on your pages than most other popular technology sites put together…

7 Berend Schotanus { 09.20.09 at 6:55 am }

The interesting revelation of this article is that the role of “bad guy” is played by Adobe, not Microsoft.
Microsoft has been on the radar as a “bad guy” for over a decade. Everybody expects them to protect proprietary technology and sabotage true innovation and open standards. But being on the radar also means that their actual freedom of movement is limited because everybody is expecting and anticipating it.
Adobe however (at least in my experience) still has the image of being part of the good guys with the well appreciated legacy of Postscript and pdf and producing cool stuff for creative professionals. Their Flash/AIR efforts have been more below the radar and less subject to criticism.
The presence of Flash in my experience has been kind of unnoticed. It is there, you’re not really happy with it but don’t spend too much attention to it either and its presence remains unchallenged. Just like Windows used to be, way back in the 1990′s.

8 VeoSotano { 09.20.09 at 7:57 am }

First of all, Dan, thank you for your article. It’s a really nice read.

I, for one, lament the direction in which HTML5 is headed. Yes, it’s nice to have browser vendors come together and innovate, but this is a tree that is growing while its roots are rotten. Even when the spec is fully finished and has been implemented by all vendors, it will still face most of the problems that give web authors headaches. With browser makers cherry picking what parts of the specification they want to implement – and believe me, that will happen – you will still need to dumb down your code to the lowest common denominator, and authors will continue to long for an effective way to graphically lay out their pages, and CSS sadly isn’t really up to the task.

Tag soup, classitis, float-nightmares, broken DOM, display inconsistency, etc are all poised to stay.

I recently read an article titled “CSS Wishlist” over at smashingapps, which greatly captures some of the things that would be needed to help web authors create their pages more easily. Most of these features won’t be ever implemented because of backwards compatibility.

On the other hand, critics of HTML5 have argued that its XML serialization (XHTML5), isn’t at all what the W3C wanted when creating the whole XML toolchain, intended, among other things, at enabling the Semantic Web. With it’s lacking extensibility, and still being a mashup of semantic and presentational data, the content information (the html document) isn’t very useful for being used for anything other than human browsing. I think the W3C has suffered a big loss while abandoning XHTML in favor of HTML5.

I propose another alternative, which is on a middle ground between completely open standards and propietary platforms. It’s still plug-in based, but the spec is open, where you create the documents using plain-text files. Once adoption is wide enough, browser vendors are free to implement support for the new standard natively, if they want to. Meanwhile, every browser with a plug-in architecture can benefit from using the latest technology available. This would also erase display inconsistencies from one browser to another.

I call it XHS, which stands for XML + HSS, and as you probably have guessed, uses XML to mark up the content. HSS stands for Hierarchical Style Sheets, and it is my take on what an interface programming language for the web should be. It boasts a full featured vector graphics engine and a complete (this time done right) separation between content and presentation.

I am a designer, both for print and web, and a developer, both applications and web apps, and I think I have a pretty good understanding of how web designers would want to be able to create web pages, while at the same time knowing how a programming language should work from a developer’s perspective. Currently, I am writing the HSS specification and will releasing it to the world soon. Now everytime I have to code a web page I think for myself: “if only XHS was available already…”, and I am really excited for the new features.

If everything goes as planned, XHS could revolutionize the internet as we know it, enabling a graphical web like never before. In my view, it would work right in the direction of what Tim Berners-Lee defined as Web 3.0: “People keep asking what Web 3.0 is. I think maybe when you’ve got an overlay of scalable vector graphics – everything rippling and folding and looking misty – on Web 2.0 and access to a semantic Web integrated across a huge space of data, you’ll have access to an unbelievable data resource.”

If you want to know more, contact me on veosotano [at] gmail [dot] com , and let’s have a chat!

9 Per { 09.20.09 at 11:38 am }

A great read for a late Sunday breakfast. Thanks.

10 natej { 09.20.09 at 5:16 pm }

Excellent, excellent article. Learned a lot about something I thought I already knew a lot about. My favorite line: “The bottom of the barrel was reached with Netscape’s BLINK tag, which Microsoft matched in silliness with its own MARQUEE tag; both unplugged HTML from the goal of delivering serious documentation presentation and instead targeted the web at replicating the garish desperation of gaudy neon signs in a red light district.”

11 Will.M. { 09.20.09 at 5:32 pm }

I registered with you just so I could post this. A really great article! Thank you.

12 bartfat { 09.20.09 at 9:58 pm }

Excellent article Daniel. Good luck on writing and selling that book too. I’m surprised that HTML has stagnated for so long… a decade?! wow, I’ll never look at XHTML as a new language the same way again… the header says it was developed in 1999, which was when you said everything started stagnating. I can’t believe we’re still using 1999 technology to do stuff on the web… it’s amazing what we’ve done with what little we had. Now if we could just have another decade long of innovation like that in the ’90s, just think of where the web languages would look like :)

13 cy_starkman { 09.20.09 at 10:26 pm }

Top article Daniel and I also find it interesting that Adobe has managed to stay out of the monopoly spotlight.

One curious note is that Flash never was Adobe, it was Macromedia, so in a sense the real company that attempted to lock up the web wasn’t Adobe, it was Macromedia. Adobe bought them and with their products came the attitude.

Same happened to NVidia when they bought 3DFx

14 MarkyMark { 09.20.09 at 11:57 pm }

Die Flash Die!

15 Links 21/09/2009: OLPC with GNU/Linux in Nigeria, More Unlocked Linux Phones | Boycott Novell { 09.21.09 at 5:30 am }

[...] Why Apple is betting on HTML 5: a web history It’s important to note that HTML 5 isn’t one big difficult leap like moving from Windows XP to Vista, or from IPv4 to IPv6. According to Google’s Mark Pilgrim, the HTML 5 specification is simply a collection of detailed feature implementations that browsers can support. In fact, some browsers already support features like geolocation, local storage, offline apps, canvas, and the new audio and video tags. Apple’s Safari 4 and mobile Safari on the iPhone already do. [...]

16 JasonBelec { 09.21.09 at 10:52 am }

Yes, death to Flash, what a waste of resources in development and in delivery. HTML5 and all the samples I have seen and tested are amazing. Those complaining about tools, well that has always been an issue and we are always provided over bloated nonsense for ridiculous fees. Go OpenSource, we’re here for you! And if MS wants to come along for the ride, good for them, time to wake up.

17 RDM: Why Apple is betting on HTML 5, a web history « Day and Age { 09.21.09 at 12:32 pm }

[...] Nice article by Daniel Eran Dilger regarding HTML. He talks about where HTML has been, where it is, and where it’s going, and how that affects the future of the web. [...]

18 SteveS { 09.21.09 at 1:18 pm }

@VeoSotano,

History as taught these standards bodies an important lesson. A small group of people cannot simply dictate the future for all. A standard is meaningless if nobody adheres to it. Further, any plan that doesn’t consider backwards compatibility is flawed. There is simply too much content to ignore older web sites. HTML 5 represents a very practical approach in this regard and has a very strong chance of success. That means much more than having a perfectly defined XHTML based standard which nobody knows or cares about.

As for your plugin plan, you still have the issue of who controls the plugin standard. That is, let’s say Adobe opens Flash. As Adobe continues to evolve Flash, everyone else will continue to be a generation behind them. That’s not a good solution. I believe the current course is the best practical solution.

@cy_starkman ,

Yes, Macromedia created Flash, not Adobe. However, Flash was considered the crown jewel of the Macromedia purchase. Adobe clearly wanted this lock in. Adobe scuttled products like Freehand to this dismay of many. Some things like Fireworks continue on (for now). The only other benefit was Dreamweaver, but that wouldn’t have been enough for Adobe to purchase the company.

19 romanzy { 09.21.09 at 1:55 pm }

Gosh… I will be so glad when Flash websites will be history. I HATE FLASH! The world and the world wide web will be so much better off without Microsoft and Flash. Adobe is a 2nd Microsoft: zero innovation. Thanks God we have Apple, Firefox, and Google, uffff.

20 Hakalau Tom { 09.21.09 at 5:25 pm }

Excellent and timely article for me. I had hoped to archive a single copy of community input in XHTML for retention, mining, and web display. The general SGML spec is too complex, but ever since the simpler XML became popular, I have used it for retention and mining, avoiding the freer, richer, but also sloppier HTML. OK, nobody is going to support XHTML. Does that mean that I should archive in XML and then rely on an exporter to HTML, accepting the fact that every time that exporter is updated to keep up with HTML changes, integrity of data display is at risk? How big is the risk? This data needs very little formatting. Could I find a subset of HTML that will remain stable for 20 years or so?

21 VeoSotano { 09.21.09 at 5:26 pm }

@SteveS Actually, my plan is to create the plug-in as an open source project, where everyone that is interested can contribute, not just opening up propietary softrware. Kind of what the WHATWG does, but going in a different direction, one that HTML would never walk, because they can not change the fundamental concepts of how it is rendered, like for example every single element in the page is a square. Change that, and bye bye backwards compatibility.

I don’t disregard backwards compatibility, though. Only that it is achieved in another way than throwing all past, current and future features in a big bucket of “graceful degradation”.

22 lowededwookie { 09.23.09 at 4:32 am }

I don’t think the issue of what browser vendors will choose to implement is necessarily going to be an issue.

Think about it you’ve got KHTML on KDE based Linux, Google Chrome, and Safari. What do ALL of these have in common? They’re all using WebKit in some form. That leaves three browsers not using it but only one of those matters these days and that’s FireFox. As Dan mentioned most IE users are using v6 which doesn’t support the latest standards anyway so IE is ineffectual.

Opera doesn’t really get a look in because it really only has a place on mobile platforms these days, its PC support is largely gobbled up by FireFox on Linux and Windows and Safari and FireFox on the Mac.

With the backing of WebKit by Apple and Google it makes sense for FireFox to begin implementing most of the standards WebKit does in order to not be left out like what happened to Netscape.

This then leads Microsoft to start doing something about HTML5 otherwise that 65% is going to disappear to less than that as people move towards a more online world. In fact I would hazard a guess that much of Office 2010 Online will be HTML5 based in order to sell more copies to platforms like the Mac or be left behind.

Ultimately HTML5 and CSS3 will succeed where previous versions failed because it does offer developers a clear path as to where to progress to.

I do agree that Apple really needs to pull finger and make a web development tool say iWeb with code editing and MobileMe having the ability to read/write to XML in order to make standards based database driven sites.

23 Anonymous { 10.05.09 at 8:03 pm }

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28 The fallacy of Flash: why Adobe’s ideological war with Apple is bankrupt — RoughlyDrafted Magazine { 03.30.10 at 4:53 pm }

[...] Why Apple is betting on HTML 5: a web history [...]

29 SunnyGuy53 { 04.08.10 at 3:24 am }

Shouldn’t Software Update have taken care of all these IE6 users? IE7 was released in 2006. Why don’t they acquire modern technology? Or is that an oxymoron for Windows users? Maybe a lot of them will get iPads – it’d be the equivalent of replacing an Ford Edsel with a Chevy Volt. Or they could at least upgrade to FireFox. Do them a world of good. Joint the 21st Century. Dang.

Sunny Guy

30 Five Tremendous Apple vs. Adobe Flash Myths — RoughlyDrafted Magazine { 04.10.10 at 1:46 am }

[...] Why Apple is betting on HTML 5: a web history [...]

31 Kaitain { 04.13.10 at 8:08 am }

The reason people stay with Flash has very little to do with the format it publishes (.swfs), and little to do with whether that format is open or closed. It is because the development environment is decent and caters to a *wide range of skill sets* (designer -> coder). At least it tries to, without pigeonholing non-coders into being iPhoto-style web publishers. When i see a development environment for HTML5 that matches up, I will go for it in a heartbeat. So will everyone else. When you look at Flash as a content creation tool… the competitors have a lot of work to do. Don’t expect content creators to migrate yet… they have nowhere to go to.

32 Why Steve Jobs Loves Adobe Flash — RoughlyDrafted Magazine { 04.30.10 at 1:06 am }

[...] Ten Myths of Apple’s iPad: 2. It needs Flash Why Apple is betting on HTML 5: a web history [...]

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