In defense of web developers

It has only been a few days but I am already sick of the “XHTML is bullshit, man!” crowd using the cessation of XHTML 2.0 activity to condescend to—or even childishly glory in the “folly” of—web developers who build with XHTML 1.0, a stable W3C recommendation for nearly ten years, and one that will continue to work indefinitely.

A coterie of well-informed codemeisters, from ppk to Ian Hickson, has always had legit beefs with XHTML, the most persuasive of which was Hickson’s:

It is suggested that HTML delivered as text/html is broken and XHTML delivered as text/xml is risky, so authors intending their work for public consumption should stick to HTML 4.01, and authors who wish to use XHTML should deliver their markup as application/xhtml+xml.

This problem always struck me as more theoretical than real, but I pointed it out in every edition of Designing With Web Standards and left it to the reader to decide. When I wrote the first edition of the book, some versions of Mozilla and IE would go into Quirksmode in the presence of HTML 4, breaking CSS layouts. To me, that was a worse problem than whatever was supposed to be scary or bad about using well-formed XHTML syntax while delivering it as HTML all browsers could support.

The opportunity to rethink markup

The social benefit of rethinking markup sealed the deal. XHTML’s introduction in 2000, and its emphasis on rules of construction, gave web standards evangelists like me a platform on which to hook a program of semantic markup replacing the bloated and unsustainable tag soup of the day. The web is better for this and always will be, and there is much still to do, as many people who create websites still have not heard the call.

A few who became disenchanted with XHTML early retreated to HTML 4, and as browsers stopped going into Quirksmode in its presence, valid, structural HTML 4 became a reasonable option again. But both HTML 4 and XHTML 1 were document languages, not transactional languages. They were all noun, and almost no verb. So Ian Hickson, XHTML’s biggest critic, fathered HTML 5, an action-oriented toddler specification that won’t reach adulthood until 2022, although some of it can be used today.

And guess what? HTML 5 is as controversial today as XHTML was in 2000, and there are just as many people who worry that a specification of which they don’t entirely approve is being shoved down their throats by an “uncaring elite.” Only this time, instead of the W3C, the “uncaring elite” is Mr Hickson, with W3C rubber stamp, and input from browser makers, including his employer.

XHTML not dead

All of this is to say that XHTML is not dead (XHTML 2 is dead, thank goodness), and HTML 5 is not here yet. Between now and 2022, we have plenty of time to learn about HTML 5 and contribute to the discussion—and browser makers have 13 years to get it right. Which is also to say all of us—not just those who long ago retreated to HTML 4, or who became fans of HTML 5 before it could even say “Mama”—are entitled to be pleased that standard markup activity will now have a single focus, rather than a dual one (with XHTML 2 the dog spec that no one was willing to mercy-kill until now).

Entitled to be pleased is not the same as entitled to gloat and name call. As DN put it in comment-44126:

What is really rather aggravating is how many people are using this news as a stick with which to beat any developer or freelancer who’s had the audacity to study up on and use XHTML in good faith–or even, much to the horror of the Smug Knowbetters, admire XHTML’s intelligible markup structure–for the brand-new-minted sin of doing the most with XHTML that’s possible. The ‘unofficial Q&A’ is ripe with that kind of condescension. …[D]on’t pin users (front-end developers are merely users of specifications) with Microsoft’s failure to support the correct MIME type.

Read more

  • Web Fonts, HTML 5 Roundup: Worthwhile reading on the hot new web font proposals, and on HTML 5/CSS 3 basics, plus a demo of advanced HTML 5 trickery. — 20 July 2009
  • HTML 5: Nav Ambiguity Resolved. An e-mail from Chairman Hickson resolves an ambiguity in the nav element of HTML 5. What does that mean in English? Glad you asked! — 13 July 2009
  • Web Standards Secret Sauce: Even though Firefox and Opera offered powerfully compelling visions of what could be accomplished with web standards back when IE6 offered a poor experience, Firefox and Opera, not unlike Linux and Mac OS, were platforms for the converted. Thanks largely to the success of the iPhone, Webkit, in the form of Safari, has been a surprising force for good on the web, raising people’s expectations about what a web browser can and should do, and what a web page should look like. — 12 July 2009
  • XHTML DOA WTF: The web’s future isn’t what the web’s past cracked it up to be. — 2 July 2009

[tags]HTML, HTML5, W3C, WTF, XHTML, XML[/tags]