The XHTML (2) Working Group Debacle

by Tina Holmboe 16th of July 2009

In mid April of 2007 I was asked to join the XHTML 2 Working Group at the W3C as an “invited expert”. Being of sound mind and with some interest in structured markup languages I accepted. The experience has been enlightening, to say the least.

The work itself has been frustrating — as I learnt how much I didn’t know about XML — and encouraging as we worked out new solutions to old problems; the ACCESS module spring to mind.

Some days were exasperating, and I vividly recall the sometimes fierce discussions on the Role Attribute, the inclusion of the ⁇target⁇ attribute in XHTML 2’s Hypertext Attributes module, and the P(aragraph) element content model which was changed from its HTML 4 definition to allow lists, blockquotes, preformatted text and tables.p-element

Still, work progressed and the group — never an extensive one — applied themselves to the rather lengthy list of deliverablescharter. Besides XHTML 2, the next generation of XML–based general purpose markup language aimed at the WWW, several other specifications were worked upon — RDFa among them.

There were — almost from the moment the W3C adopted the WHATWG’s Web Applications draft as the starting–point for HTML 5 — conflict between groups. The HTML WG laid claim to the “XHTML 5” name without consulting the XHTML WG, and several ultimately fruitless discussions ensued, including several on whether or not the XHTML 2 WG was really the XHTML WG or not, despite the fact that the group was maintainer for the entire XHTML Family documents.

For me it all effectively ended on the 3rd of July 2009. Being in Sweden I read from time to time, as it is one way of keeping up with what is going on in the IT industry here. On this Friday they published a news–story regarding how the W3C were to break off development of XHTML 2, and relocate resources to HTML 5. An interview was made with a W3C Official from the Swedish office.

On the first of July 2009 the XHTML WG met, as usual. No information was given to suggest what was to come. Our chairperson didn’t know. We didn’t know.

Not until we read about in the paper.

On the 8th of July we met again. Still no information had been provided to us, the actual working group.

For various reasons, and with various degree of animosity, we are all, I believe pretty upset with the state of affairs. Shane McCarron put his views forth first in “W3C, you ignorant slut!”, followed by Steven Pemberton’s“XHTML2: not dead. ”

The truth of the matter is, in the end, that the W3C simply refused to renew the Charter of the XHTML WG, which is due to expire December 2009. Despite the frankly despicable, and possibly incorrect, way the organisation has managed the issue, this is what we now have to live with.

XHTML, for all practical purposes, is dead as a W3C effort.

XHTML 2 will be discontinued; XHTML 5 isn’t — at the time of publication — fulfilling the criteria for XHTML Family member status; XHTML 1.0 and XHTML 1.1 may, perhaps, be maintained. But things could yet happen … and in the meantime we’ll continue our work. Expect to see new and exciting specifications from the XHTML WG before we go to our grave!

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