What developers want from HTML5

Update 3/9/09: Transcript is now available at the end of this post.

Lachy caught up with with the world famous Blorsen (aka. Bruce Lawson), one of Opera Software’s developer relations guys, about what developers want from HTML5. Bruce and Lachy also discuss recent happenings in the W3C’s HTML Working Group, such as new alternative drafts, and a few of the open issues faced by the group.

Bruce Lawson – What devs want from HTML5 from Standards Suck on Vimeo.

Lachy

Hi, welcome to another episode of Standards Suck. I’m here with Bruce Lawson, my colleague in Opera Software and we’re going to talk about a few things today. Firstly his role with dealing with the community in regards to HTML 5 and we’ll talk about issues where the spec currently lacking.

And then we’ll go into a bit more detail about issues within the actual workgroup. So firstly tell us a bit about what your role is.

Bruce

Okay Lachy, for Opera I work in developer relations cos until Opera I lead a development team for four years in a big legal organisation in the UK. So with HTML 5 the perspective I’m trying to give is that of an interested standards-aware developer. I’m not a guy you can quote from RFC’s, etc, but sometimes I think I’m being paid to ask the potentially silly or naive questions a lot of people want to know the answers for but don’t necessarily feel comfortable emailing the What WG to ask. So I like to think that I could feedback some of the things that those people want to you guys who are actually involved in the writing of standards.

Lachy

Right, so you’re sort of a liaison between us working on the spec and the wider community?

Bruce

Yeah, I mean you know yourself that specs aren’t written for authors, specs are written largely for implementers and the language that you use is very, very different, and of necessity. But nevertheless the community’s really excited by it, so although there’s some guy writing an authoring guide (I don’t know who he is…)

Lachy

That’s me.

Bruce

But that guy’s really heavily involved with specifying and the community want that information, so I’m trying to provide it.

Lachy

Right. Could you tell us a bit about what the community actually wants from HTML 5 that maybe it’s currently lacking from the spec?

Bruce

The two main things they want is they want it now, and they want clarity. And we’re getting there. The people I’ve spoken to love the potential of the video element and there’s a lot of kind of shaking of heads in disbelief about the codec problems that are not the HTML 5 working group’s problem, it’s the browser and the community loves canvas, in my opinion a little too much cos some things are better done with SVG and of course there’s the accessibility problem that we’ll talk about later.

People like the sectioning elements so you can, you know, divide a page off into a hierarchy of good sections which is great and really useful in the stage when contents are pulled in from lots of sources. Generally the community I think are happy with the direction and the details need finessing and there are people, you know, who despise the whole thing and think XHTML 2 was the bees knees but that’s an argument that’s lost its day I think.

Lachy

Right, so, okay so generally the vibe outside the community is that HTML 5 is progressing well. What about within the HTML working group itself, what’s sort of going on in there?

Bruce

Well the HTML working group is a fascinating bunch because of course you’ve got the core guys, the “cabal”, as believe missed Mr Last Week calls it, but of course you’ve got hundreds of people like me who, who signed up and are participating which is – I guess – a first for anything that’s W3C related. The difficulty is, is there are multiple specs being written now. The reason is is that a lot of people think they haven’t necessarily had satisfaction or had their concerns addressed in a manner that they’d like by Ian Hickson (the editor) and the other guys writing the spec and so have taken it upon themselves to write parallel specs.

Lachy

So this is both to and split out sections into their own independent sections. For example the Web Workers spec was taken out, a couple of others, but also to write alternatives to current draft?

Bruce

Yeah, there was spec recently by a guy called Manu Sporny (I think I pronounced the name right). He’s the guy behind RDFa, which is a way of marking of micro-data semantically, and he wrote a spec that was the same technically as Ian Hickson’s spec but full of warnings. It went to a vote and I actually voted for his to take precedence although the vote was lost.

Lachy

Alright, could you just give us another view of what the two different views on this issue are – why some people wanted warnings, some people didn’t.

Bruce

The reason I wanted the warnings is, although I disagreed with most of the warnings – I thought most of the warnings were verging on fear and uncertainty and doubt, but although I personally disagreed with them I thought that they’re the legitimate concerns of people far brighter than me and so … you and I are paid to follow the endless stream of emails and the endless rambling but people out there who don’t have the time to do that, a spec with warnings might be their first way that they would know that some things are under contention and this thing is not yet cut and dried. So I personally felt that it was more transparent to get those warnings out, even though personally I didn’t agree with them.

Lachy

Right, so it wasn’t the content of the warnings themselves, it was just the fact of communicating about issues in the group?

Bruce

Yeah. I disagreed with most of Manu’s warnings but, you know, they’re legitimate concerns of people and I felt that it was only fair that they could be expressed

Lachy

Okay, what about other drafts that other people have produced? There’s one from Steve Faulkner and others.

Bruce

Yeah. Those are closer to my heart because before I started at Opera, before I even started doing the full-time development, I’ve always been interested in accessibility and Steve Faulkner’s a really bright decent guy who cares a lot about accessibility. Things like the canvas element, because when you’re drawing things on the screen with canvas, you’re literally just drawing pixels, there’s no structure to interrogate per se, there’s no real way for that information to be made available to people with disabilities. So I’m really, really supportive of the work that Steve is doing. We all know that it’s a conversation, it’s a dialogue, it’s compromises, but I hope that some of Steve’s ideas will make it into the final spec.

Lachy

Yeah, one day, eventually. Especially with canvas accessibility,once we develop a workable technical solution.

Bruce

Well that’s the thing, I think you and I said that the original use case for canvas was mainly drawing a nice pie chart with jQuery from data in an accessible data table. But the street finds its own uses for things and so suddenly we’re seeing text editors written in canvas …

Lachy

That’s Bespin.

Bruce

Yeah, which was a brilliant proof of concept but entirely the wrong tool for the job, but nevertheless we’re going to see things like that and so before, before the horse has finally bolted (to mix my metaphors appallingly) it’s time to look at how we can retrospectively refit the canvas spec I think to get a degree of accessibility there.

Lachy

Right, so it’s not about completely failure to develop canvas properly, but it’s the needs have shifted and so we have to work harder to meet those?

Bruce

Yeah, and also you know there are I believe canvas was invented by Apple and then subsequently specifying and added to the spec.

Lachy

Yes that was another big problem.

Bruce

Yeah. So, but in that way I think the process is working correctly; people are communicating what they want in a working group and as much as I hate to admit it, the times that Hixie’s told me that I’m wrong, I was wrong So I get the feeling that genuinely expressed concerns are properly looked at, maybe I’m too much of a compromiser, I know there are people a lot more hardcore than me who are entirely against the way the Working Group operates but I’m not one of those people.

Lachy

Well thanks for your time Bruce.

Transcipt by Transcript Divas.

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