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HTML5 Fork Could Raise Developer Concerns


7087270549 c5cc2e9bc3When stories emerged last week about a split developing between the two standards bodies charged with defining the HTML5 standard, it would have been natural for developers who have been trying to keep ahead of the curve to worry, but it could be that the standards bodies have less impact than you think on the browser developers.

For some background, stories began surfacing last week that the two main standards bodies, the WC3 (World Wide Web Consortium) and the WHATWG (Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group) had reached a parting of the ways. As Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols wrote on HP I/O, WHATWG was developing what they call " the canonical description" and WC3 was more focused on "developing a snapshot" using the tried and true process they have followed over the years.

Vaughan-Nichols said it sounded like a fork to him, but does it matter to developers? That's the key question. Todd Anglin, vice president for HTML5 Web and Mobile Tools at Telerik, a provider of productivity tools for software developers, says there's probably nothing to worry about here.

"With the recent “split” between the W3C and WHATWG, there are fears that this change will lead to an “HTML5 fork” or chaos for developers. Instead, it is a good time to step back and remember that standards bodies like the W3C and WHATWG have very little impact on the version of “HTML5” shipping in browsers," he explained.

He says it's really up to the browser developers to work this out and as long as you can work across browsers, there won't be anything to worry about. "A standards body ultimately produces a recommendation, not a browser. For standards to matter, it remains the commitment of browser authors, like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Mozilla, to ship browser features that interoperate. And there is no indication that commitment is changing," Anglin said.

Meanwhile, J. Schwan,  founder and president of Solstice Consulting, a mobility consulting firm says it's true, it's about the browsers, but he thinks it could slow browser development around HTML5 and this could make cell phone app development environments more important. "What this does mean is the pace of browser adoption/standardization of web technology capabilities may further decrease; therefore mobile web capabilities will continue to lag behind native mobile software development kits (i.e. iOS SDK, Android SDK). Over time, this will further widen the gap between native mobile app and mobile web capabilities, continuing to make native apps the preferred end user experience," Scwan said.

Anglin is not so sure about that, saying that the approach browser developers choose to use has a lot to do with the pace of the HTML5 development and some of it at least will continue to be rapid. "The most likely impact of this decision will be different definitions of “HTML5 ready.” As we already see today, companies like Google and Mozilla race into the future, implementing and “standardizing” new HTML5 features aggressively, and they will use the WHATWG definition of HTML5 to define a “HTML5 ready” browser. Meanwhile, Microsoft is likely to continue its slower pace of evolution with Internet Explorer, and they will find shelter in the W3C’s snapshot to claim IE is HTML5 ready."

Whatever happens to the HTML5 standard development from here on out, it does appear to be taking two different approaches. That could help app development environments as Schwan thinks, or it could be be as Anglin thinks more of a browser issue with little impact on developers. Time will tell.

Graphic by codepo8 on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

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