Innovation on the Web? Eric Meyer’s Not Happy!

Usually semisane CSS evangelist/consultant Eric Meyer self-describedly has a nasty aneurism over Apple’s new Dashboard technology:

Wait a minute. Did I just get hit over the head and magically transported back to 1994? New HTML elements and attributes? What the bleeding hell?!?

[…]

I hope I�m reading his post incorrectly. I hope that what Dave is really saying is that Dashboard widgets are actually XML, albeit an XML that looks very much like HTML except they�ve added some nifty stuff to it. If so, great, fine, no problem. XML lets you do whatever you want, really. But if these are widgets that use actual HTML DOCTYPEs, and yet add this stuff, then the throbbing vein in my forehead is going to rupture and spray blood all over my shiny TiBook. We just left that tag soup party.

[Link added by your humble blogger. Emphasis in original. All rights reserved. Not valid in Alaska or Hawaii–the freak states.]

When I initially read Hyatt’s post I thought, “Finally, somebody is finally innovating in HTML in a way that doesn’t just lock in Microsoft’s monopoly and helps me, the humble developer!” God knows the W3C has been spending most of its time on XHTML 2 worrying over the purity of concept and little about empowering everyday authors. Proof that innovation just does not happen in committees.

But then I said, surely it isn’t as bad as all that–I should check out the ol’ W3 and see if there’s anything that Apple could be building on in a standards-compliant way. They’ve been playing really well with others recently, particularly in regard to Dashboard.

Well slap me silly and call me mamma jamma. Ol’ Eric ain’t been readin’ his XHTML specs, so obsessed with the presentation side of the house is he…to reiterate his major complaint:

if these are widgets that use actual HTML DOCTYPEs, and yet add this stuff

…then the appropriate DOCTYPE is XHTML 1.1, conforming to the XHTML Modularization recommendation, Eric.

To quote from the link above:

Modularization also allows for the extension of XHTML’s layout and presentation capabilities, using the extensibility of XML, without breaking the XHTML standard.

Eric doesn’t seem to recognize that you don’t have to use pure “XML that looks very much like HTML except they�ve added some nifty stuff to it”. It can have a valid DOCTYPE and yet extend it via XML.

Now, to be sure I don’t know–Apple may very well be extending XHTML 1.0 or even HTML 4.01 in technically illegal ways. Since these are widgets that just leverage the technology to perform some rather different functionality, rather than claiming to be a new valid document type for authoring on the broader Web, it wouldn’t bother me nearly as much as it would Eric. However, in that case I would concede the basic point: Apple is breaking standards.

But especially with a closed platform there’s no reason for them to: XHTML is supposed to be backward compatible, so your previous XHTML skills should do you well in XHTML 1.1. Apple can market them as Dashboard-specific changes while not mentioning that they’re just following the spec. This is what they did with Zeroconf/Rendezvous.

In short, Eric, if you’re feeling defensive and need to tie the Web down to the state of the art as of the release of Internet Explorer 6, go for it. But there’s a need to move forward out there, because the current batch of standards is not the end all and be all of Web development. Microsoft has given innovation a bad name, but that doesn’t mean innovation is bad: it just means Microsoft is bad.

But we knew that.

Update: That didn’t take long. Turns out Apple is breaking standards, but they’ve submitted the changes to the appropriate bodies and have worked with other browser makers to ensure they are implementable with others. Some of the changes, as I alluded to above, have been already incorporated into standards such as Web Forms.

So I don’t see what’s wrong with innovating on standards so long as you do what Apple has done: work with others and submit your changes. After all, this is pretty much the model for Open Source, which is often mentioned in the same paragraph, if not the same breath, as Standards.

Again, I’m only in love with Standards to the degree they’re a help and not a hindrance, and given my experience with Web Standards, I’m not thrilled with the current state of them. So it wouldn’t have caused me to sell all my Macs and buy Windows licenses even if they hadn’t submitted the changes–but given what I knew of the efforts already, it would have been out of character. Again, this stuff is going into a semi-closed platform.

It might have been nice to take advantage of XHTML 1.1, but Hyatt points out several problems with doing so, mainly in complexity of XHTML versus HTML, as well as browser support for XHTML being sucky (an assessment that surprised me a bit–I thought it was CSS that was the main issue). I have to say on the first point, my own experience with XHTML is that people really are too intellectually lazy to balance tags properly and so it breaks more easily with casual content authors.