Friday Feast #33: XHTML 2 Working Draft and Discussions

If you’ve read some of the design-related weblogs the past week or so, you’ll already know there’s been quite a discussion about the XHTML 2.0 working draft. I’m writing today to invite you to read through these thoughts, check out the working draft, see what you think about it all, and let the HTML working group know what you think via their HTML discussion list.

Big Changes

Jeffrey Zeldman wrote much of what I was also thinking with his January 14 post, XHTML 2 and all that and his follow-up, More about XHTML 2. Like Jeffrey, I’ve been baffled about why this working draft replaces the IMG element with OBJECT, BR is replaced with the new LINE element, and a few other significant changes. Jeffrey goes into all that and much more. I’d much prefer to see elements and attributes deprecated, not incompatible.


We’ve relied heavily on the latest W3C recommendations supporting their predecessors. That has also been a practical approach for everyone—browser makers, tool makers, designers, and non-professional folks wanting webpages. If XHTML 2 isn’t backward compatible and breaks what’s already been on the Web all this time, I see resistance to implementing it, creating major problems with it being supported. If browser makers, tool makers, and designers don’t support it, then what?

Part of making standards work is creating practical, workable solutions that the industry can embrace and support. Is it practical to create a recommendation that isn’t backward compatible with its predecessor? Will the industry support it? Am I being pessimistic to think that if the current XHTML 2 working draft becomes a recommendation that there will be resistance and lack of support? I see my concerns as realistic, not pessimistic, at least at this moment in time.

What About the HTML Charter?

Is the HTML Working Group following their charter? They may or may not be, depending on your side of the fence. While I may feel “transition” ought to include deprecated elements and attributes, others may feel differently, for example. The HTML Working Group charter states,

“The main scope of this charter is to complete the transition from HTML to XHTML, carried over from the previous charter. This includes finishing work on XHTML 2.0, the next generation of XHTML whose design goal is to use generic XML technologies as much as possible. This document type will include new features such as XForms and XML Events as replacements for legacy HTML/XHTML features...

“The widespread and interoperable deployment of the deliverables listed here is critical for the success of the XHTML. In order to ensure interoperable implementations, test suites need to be developed for the deliverables.”

Note that part of their charter states the development of test suites to ensure interoperable implementations. Tantek Çelik wrote his concerns to the HTML working group and at his weblog that the HTML Working Group could have been spending their precious time on things he sees as more important, including test suites and fine tuning existing recommendations.

How the Flap Started

If you haven’t yet read Mark Pilgrim’s Semantic obsolescence and subsequent follow-ups, it’s worth the read, too. His post resulted in much more widespread discussion of the XHTML 2 working draft. His site also links to many others' comments, so you can spend months reading.

But Does it Really Matter?

Another helpful stop along the way of opinions is Eric Meyer’s thoughts about XHTML, CSS, and bridging the gaps. He hasn’t been as passionate about XHTML anyway and

“... given that you can take XML and CSS and create your own documents out of whatever markup language you can invent, and use XSLT to bridge the gap between old browsers and new ones, I find XHTML to be of minor import.”

If you haven’t gotten familiar with XML and XSLT yet, maybe it’s time to start taking a look. Eric’s points make me want to get into those technologies more than my overviews and time have allowed so far. Yes, we have a lot to keep up with, don’t we?

So why bother using XHTML at all? Tantek Çelik provides a helpful, insightful answer in his January 14 post, Why XHTML?.

The Importance of Feedback

All the talk the past week or so reminds me of the importance of letting the W3C know what we think. This is why the W3C’s public discussion lists exist, and they need to know our opinions. Last year we made a difference by speaking out about the potential problems with the Patent Policy Framework Working Draft.

Who Uses XHTML Anyway?

Are people really using XHTML? Yes, and it’s being used more every day. Many of us have been creating sites with XHTML and CSS for a few years now, myself included. The Big CSS List has over 500 sites with CSS layouts, many of which also use XHTML. Now hosted at, the CSS Tableless Web Sites has close to 1,000 sites listed. The Minimalist Web Project has a listing of sites with minimalist design approach, many of which are XHTML and CSS, too. What about commercial use? Those are on the rise, too, including Wired News and others. MACCAWS helps promote commercial use of standards.


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Categories: Accessibility, Browsers, CSS, Design, Development, Friday Feast, Standards, Usability

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