So I’m publishing some of the interviews I did here. This week we’ve already heard from Ian Hickson, the spec’s main editor, and Paul Gubbay of Adobe. Now I’ve got an edited transcript of my conversation with Tantek Çelik, a standards veteran who made his reputation with Apple and Microsoft, currently works on open standards at Mozilla and is the author of HTML5 Now: a step by step video tutorial for getting started today.
(Photograph by BarCamp, used under Creative Commons license)
You were involved in the split between the W3C and the WHAT working group, which ultimately helped give birth to HTML5. How do you remember things?
“Rewind back to the end of the 90s and two things were happening at that time: HTML was maturing — HTML 4.01 came out — and at the same time, the first version of XML had come out. The promise of XML was to provide a new foundation for the web, and clean and limitless markup for everybody. It was going to clean up the mess of HTML4 and unshackle web developers from this limited set of tags. It promised all these things.”
Then XHTML came along…
“XHTML itself was not really held in high regard by the XML crowd, because they thought ‘why would you bother? why not make your own tags? why pollute it with that legacy?’. It turns out, that’s the whole web.”
So what was the turning point?
“In June 2004, there was a W3C workshop held in San Jose, at Adobe’s offices there. It brought together all reps from major browsers, minor browsers, W3C, people from the SVG working group, the CSS working group. What emerged at the end of this two day workshop were two very different ideas of the future: the vision that W3C was pushing out — XML and RDFa — and on the other hand, the browser vendors: HTML, CSS et cetera.”
“There was essentially a survey taken at the end of the workshop [to vote on which direction was best]. In the minutes, all you see is eight for and 11 against. It doesn’t say who voted which way. Among the 11 were W3C reps and mobile vendors. All the browser vendors looked around and realised they were agreeing, so they thought they had no choice… that is the WHAT WG was founded from.”
You were Microsoft’s representative at the time, but didn’t join WHAT. Why?
“Microsoft had the opportunity to join the WHATWG, but as Microsoft’s rep I decided specifically to decline to participate because at the time, Microsoft still had sufficient negative press that I realized it might actually hurt the effort if Microsoft were a part of it. But at the same time I stepped down from the XHTML working group and withdrew Microsoft’s representation. In the poll, MS took a position with the other browser vendors for the evolution of HTML and CSS and DOM, but then declined to join the WHAT working group and as well quit the XHTML2 working group to make that clear statement that this was not the future either.”
“A month later, I quit Microsoft because I decided there was no more good I could do.”
What does this say about the W3C?
“If the browser vendors agree, what need is there for W3C. W3C was originally formed to get Microsoft and Netscape to the table, to agree on HTML and have a common language. [If the vendors agree] at best, they’re irrelevant, at worst they’re an obstacle, to put it bluntly.”
What excites you the most about HTML5?
“There’s two areas that I’m very excited about. The first is that HTML5 has greatly simplified what it takes to create an HTML document. All you need is a title element and some sort of content. It’s now at the point that I can teach anyone, in less than five minutes, to create something from nothing: how to walk up to a blank text editor and create an HTML document off the top of their head. That’s incredibly empowering, and it means the number of people that can get started with HTML has been greatly increased. I think that has far-ranging social implications that nobody’s thought about. Nearly every profession that’s involved in anything digital touches the web, and for that you have to know some HTML.”
“The other is native audio and video. HTML’s now, finally, becoming a multimedia content form. The focus of companies like Apple has pushed that along, with the iPad, the iPhone - and with decent cross-browser support for audio and video. You can get high-performance multimedia on web pages. I’m excited by it, and a little afraid — when Netscape launched with built-in image support, that’s when the web exploded. If image support did that, what happens when IE9 ships and it’s on every modern browser?”