[whatwg] clear naming for WHAT work

Dean Jackson dean at w3.org
Tue Jul 13 22:21:46 PDT 2004

Hi Ian and others,

Before I start I should say that this message does not represent a W3C
position. As Opera, Mozilla and Apple are W3C Members, it seems clear
to me that there isn't yet a single W3C position to represent :) 
This is a personal email (with no technical comment), and is in no
way a criticism of anything you've done.

I compliment WHAT you have achieved so far. It would have been nice if
some of your suggested improvements for WebForms were in HTML 4 from
1997 or HTML 4.01 from 1999. I don't think many people are completely
satisfied with the HTML specification, even the current W3C HTML
Working Group who were not the authors of HTML (just the maintainers).

I guess that in 1998 the W3C Membership chose not to continue HTML
because the main difficulty was getting people to implement it. At the
time, browser makers were extending HTML, and causing a mess for
users.  I guess the industry wanted both a format that was strict and
not extensible (for interoperability) and a format that is extensible
(for the cool new stuff). As you probably know, HTML 4.01 is not meant
to be extensible, so it mostly meets the requirements of the global
format (although it seems people still didn't implement
it). Meanwhile, XML was all the rage at the time, and I assume it made
sense to use the extensibility features of XML to continue work on
HTML. The first draft of XHTML appeared in 1998, under a different
name (in fact, the first XML version of HTML was supposed to be more
like today's XHTML2 rather than XHTML1). Again, not all desktop
browser manufacturers implemented it.

Note that I wasn't around in those days, so I'm probably completely

For those few people interested in ancient history, take a look
at the W3C Workshop on the Future of HTML, held in May 1998:


Unfortunately, the minutes from this workshop are not available
to the public, only to W3C Members, which is a shame. We shouldn't
let history be hidden from the people it influences.

So after all that waffle, I guess I wish you luck. 1998 was a
long time ago, and we have a lot more experience now, especially
some of the WHAT members who have had a chunk of their career
invested in this, only to see a less-standard browser dominate.
However, I'm personally still in favour of declaring HTML 4 a
done deal - don't extend it. I'm not suggesting HTML 4 is dead,
or that we should try to kill it. Rather, I think it is time to
call new work "new work".

I suggested privately that you call this effort HTML 5. I
still think this is a good idea. I notice that your DOCTYPE includes

[Aside: I don't particularly *like* the HTML 5 name, but I think
it is clearer than HTML 4 + WebForms + processing rules +
behaviour + XML support sort-of + other stuff]

Applying patches to an old language is fair enough, but I think
your improvements warrant a new version. Especially if you 
are modifying the processing rules and adding new elements.
I understand that you are *clarifying* the processing rules, but
that might mean changes to implementations that had assumed 
incorrect behaviour. I think actually extending HTML is 
the hard part - not specifying the extensions themselves.

Dave Hyatt responded that HTML 5 was a bad name because the new
features work in XHTML as well. Is this acceptable? One of the
benefits of XHTML is that you (are supposed to :) know what is
happening. If it is an extension to XHTML, it probably should
use the XHTML extension mechanisms. 

I really don't think you should add new elements like <output> to the
XHTML namespace. The reason the namespace is there is precisely so you
don't have to do this. Tim Bray describes this better than me.  (For
full disclosure, the W3C also broke this rule when adding Ruby to the
XHTML namespace - but IMO it's still wrong).

Alternatively, declare that your HTML 5 is never XHTML, and define a way
to make an XML version of HTML 5 (if it is needed), with a different
name (and ns). Say XHTML-WHAT-5?  Note that I haven't looked into the
trademarking of HTML and XHTML - maybe all this is impossible anyway.

Tim Bray also suggests that you fake the namespaces in HTML
(ie <what:output>). I'm with him on this. 

I do not think I am crazy enough to miss that the most important thing
is the experience the user receives. But as you know, these things
last a long time (eg. HTML4 will be around for a long while yet on the
desktop, unless there is a rapid change in the dominant browser). It's
worth getting them right.

I'm not at all set in my ways, so I'll be happy to listen to
discussion in every direction.

A final point. How open are these specifications?  The reason I ask is
that it *may* be the case that some things here are useful in W3C
work. Can we use it, with attribution of course?  At the moment it
says (c) Opera, which is fine but I suggest you have some licensing
agreement in place as soon as possible.

Otherwise if a bunch of other HTML browser vendors (such as the many
that are working hard on Mobile devices and Embedded Systems) create
their own version of the WHAT group which develops different
specifications and ships to the hundreds of millions of devices they
support each year, it is not clear if they can use WHAT work.

Sorry for the length, 


More information about the whatwg mailing list