I came to MIX this year to learn more about two things: emerging web standards (e.g. HTML5) and emerging mobile phone technology (e.g. Windows Phone 7 Series). Sunday March 14 was workshops day, a pay-to-play bonus day that precedes MIX much like an appetizer would your dinner. Several workshops were offered this year, including a pair on HTML5 by web-renowned standards advocate Molly E. Holzschlag. I was eager to attend, eager to discuss, and eager to learn whatever I could about the future standard that despite its copious amounts of documentation, remained shrouded in an air of uncertainty.
So what’s the big deal with HTML5? you might be wondering. Perhaps to appreciate where the web is going, it would help you to take a tour of where it’s been. When you’re done, come on back and we’ll continue. (Granted, that is not the only version of the story, but it hits the highlights pretty well). The bottom line is that over the years, HTML has been a veritable Tower of Babel in that it started with everyone speaking one unified language and having one unified purpose (let’s link documents together with hypertext!). The years that followed were marked by confusion, competition, and semantic squabbling by the implementers of the standards: NCSA, Netscape, Microsoft, Opera, Mozilla, Apple, Google, etc.
Personally, I’m a veteran of the first great "browser war" (IE vs. Netscape), so I have a real appreciation for both the process of defining the standard and the compromises inherent in implementing it whilst juggling the actions and intent of your competition. It’s a tough row to hoe, particularly when there’s little love lost between the agencies involved. After giving us a tour of some of the technology (as it currently is defined) that will make authoring the web easier in the HTML5-enabled future, Molly made a point of driving home that "[HTML5] is the first time in global history that five browser companies have worked simultaneously on one language!"
And while she underscored that the collaboration isn’t perfect (there are still many disagreements to iron out), it’s a far cry better than it has ever been before… and that should give us all hope. Personally, I hope that someday I’ll be able to stop writing the same bit of script 4 different ways to get the same result on 4 different browsers… all for one web page. I have no illusions that HTML5 will get us all the way there; however, from what I saw on Sunday, it’s turning out to be a huge step in the right direction.