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The future of HTML, Part 1: WHATWG (06 Dec 2005)
As their Web page states, WHATWG is a "loose unofficial collaboration of Web browser manufacturers and interested parties who wish to develop new technologies designed to allow authors to write and deploy Applications over the World Wide Web." Two terms are of particular interest here: WHATWG's main players make browsers (Mozilla, Opera), and the focus of their improvements is towards creating Web applications.

WHATWG's figurehead specification is code-named HTML5, but is known more properly as Web Applications 1.0 (see Resources). HTML5 is intended to preserve backward compatibility with the current HTML standard, HTML 4.01, and also with XHTML 1.0, the XML version of HTML. The specification sustains both the HTML and XHTML strands of W3C HTML, although it notes that implementations may choose not to.

In addition to HTML5, the Web Forms 2.0 specification (see Resources) seeks to address many of the annoyances that developers find with the current state of HTML forms. Today's forms omit many basic features from regular desktop applications, such as validation and richer widgets.

So what's inside HTML5? In short, a lot. The Web Applications 1.0 specification is an evolving beast, and some of the features mentioned are more fully developed than others. Here's a 30,000-foot flyover of the new features:

New layout elements, including a calendar control, an address card, a flexible datagrid, gauges and progress meters, drag and drop, and menus
Programming extensions to the Document Object Model (DOM), including server-sent DOM events
A formalization of the de-facto standard XMLHttpRequest object, the centerpiece of Ajax communication
Dynamic bitmap graphics through the canvas element

You can see the heritage of many of these in features implemented as one-offs with JavaScript on the Web today. Indeed, the recent rise in popularity of Ajax toolkits has led to a proliferation of widgets such as gauges, calendars, and so on.
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