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Quo Vadis? In Praise of the Sloppy Web (HTML5)

For the longest time I thought that the future of the Web page was XHTML. If you read the literature about standards-based HTML coding, it seems like XHTML is the presumed next step. The more I investigated HTML Document Type Definitions and how they invoke different modes in browsers, it became clear that no current Web browser can deal with XHTML. HTML 4 is the current standard, and you can still go “strict” which is what the “standards-based” crowd is looking for.

The difficulty in moving HTML forward is that the HTML engines in Web browsers need to agree to include the new standard and then users need to upgrade their browsers. The next step in HTML also needs to work in older browsers. XHTML doesn’t do that. Recently I’ve started hearing about HTML 5 as the next step. The proposals around HTML 5 have started with a group of Web browser companies. That’s a great sign that standards will be adopted. And as usual Microsoft isn’t part of the group.

We’re living through a relatively good time for standards-based coding. There are still lots of Web browser differences, but the Web page has really moved forward. The rise of CSS, AJAX and unobtrusive Javascript/DOM scripting has really created a dynamic and creative period for the Web page. HTML 5 would provide even more stability, standardization and some great new mark up elements.

So I’ve been asking myself, if the Web browser companies move to HTML 5, what happens to XHTML? HTML 5 is still very forgiving, it still understands sloppy code. XHTML is strict and breaks if not properly validated. The success and rapid growth of the Web was based on browsers rendering sloppy code—they are very liberal in what they accept. If we must choose between a sloppy and strict future, put me down on the side of flexibility and sloppiness.

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