Another particularly technical talk aimed at web developers and specification nerds curious to know when the much-publicised HTML 5 will ever be finalised, and what it means for the web. Chaired by Charles McCathieNeville of Opera, John Foliot of Stanford University and Paul Cotton from Microsoft Canada, this talk promised not to answer questions on how to use HTML5 on your own website, but instead the “thorny questions nobody wants to answer”.
An interesting point came up from Foliot relatively early on when he suggested that “if there’s no money to be made, people stop making stuff”. Elaborating, he claimed that one way to fix this issue in the context of HTML5 would be to implement DRM controls for rich media, a brave statement to make in a room full of (presumably) open source-friendly hackers. The point was well made though and Foliot’s suggestion that TV companies and others would shun the web if they had no way control their profits was valid.
Some debate came up on accessibility, and whether it should be part of the spec or a kind of afterthought - apparently there’s a schism in the HTML5 working group about this. A question from the floor raised issues with the title attribute and its misuse, and the panel said that the spec shouldn’t attempt to force conformance, but to educate developers instead. I quite like the idea of the working group being descriptive and not prescriptive, but realistically, they (along with any other group who attempt to police the web) lack the reach and authority to even begin to suggest how people should code. That could be a slightly depressing notion: the web evolves naturally and organically and attempts to regulate it tend to fail, but sometimes the way it evolves isn’t always the best way for it to work.
Paul Cotton of Microsoft provoked laughter when he quipped “We’d make more money if we could bury XP”, but a follow up question from an impassioned woman on the floor prompted spontaneous applause. She asked why Microsoft’s policy on removing IE6 was crippled by XP’s lack of support for anything newer, while other vendors like Opera still make their newest browsers available as far back as Windows 2000. Cotton wearily complained of “Microsoft bashing” but suggested the reasons were primarily business, not technical.
Finally Charles McCathieNeville joked by asking what the impact could be of “three old, white, fat bearded guys”, gesturing to himself and the panel. Perhaps the point that the web can’t really be regulated even by those responsible for its development sums up the challenges faced both by the spec writers and the developers implementing them.
- Matt Andrews