We’ve just launched Firefox 3.5, and we’re incredibly proud. Naturally, we have engaged in plentiful Mozilla advocacy — this site is, amongst other things, a vehicle for showcasing the latest browser’s new capabilities. We like to think about this release as an upgrade for the whole World Wide Web, because of the new developer-facing features that have just been introduced into the web platform. When talking about some of the next generation standards, the appearance of the number “5” is almost uncanny — consider HTML5 and ECMAScript 5 (PDF). The recent (and very welcome) hype around HTML5 in the press is what motivates this article. Let’s take a step back, and consider some of Mozilla’s web advocacy in the context of events leading up to the release of Firefox 3.5.
Standardization of many of these features often came after much spirited discussion, and we’re pleased to see the prominent placement of HTML5 as a key strategic initiative by major web development companies. Indeed, exciting new web applications hold a great deal of promise, and really showcase what the future of the web platform holds in store for aspiring developers. Many herald the triumphant arrival of the browser as the computer, an old theme that gets bolstered with the arrival of attractive HTML5 platform features that are implemented across Safari, Chrome, Opera, and of course, Firefox (with IE8 getting an honorable mention for having both some HTML5 features and some ECMAScript, 5th Edition features).
Call it what you will — Web 5.0, Open Web 5th Generation (wince!), or, (R)evolution # 5, the future is now. But lest anyone forget, HTML5 is not a completed standard yet, as the W3C was quick to point out. The editor doesn’t anticipate completion till 2010. The path taken from the start of what is now called HTML5 to the present-day era of (very welcome) hype has been a long one, and Mozilla has been part of the journey from the very beginning.
For one thing, we were there to point out, in no uncertain terms, that the W3C had perhaps lost its way. Exactly 5 summers ago (again, with that magic number!), it became evident that the W3C was no longer able to serve as sole custodian of the standards governing the open web of browser-based applications, so Mozilla, along with Opera, started the WHATWG. Of course, back then, we didn’t call it HTML5, and while Firefox itself made a splash in 2004, the steps taken towards standardization were definitive but tentative. Soon, other browser vendors joined us, and by the time the reconciliation with W3C occurred two years later, the innovations introduced into the web platform via the movement initiated by Mozilla had gained substantial momentum.
The net result is a specification that is not yet complete called “HTML5″ which is implemented piecemeal by most modern browsers. The features we choose to implement as an industry are in response to developers, and our modus operandi is (for the most part) in the open. Mozilla funds the HTML5 Validator, producing the first real HTML5 parser, which now drives W3C’s markup validation for HTML5. That parser has made its way back into Firefox. It’s important to note that capabilities that are of greatest interest (many of which are showcased on this blog) are not only developed within the HTML5 specification, but also as part of the W3C Geolocation WG, the Web Apps WG, and the CSS WG.
The release of Firefox 3.5, along with updates to other modern browsers, seems to declare that HTML5 has arrived. But with the foresight that comes with having been around this for a while, we also know that we have a lot of work ahead of us. For one thing, we’ve got to finish HTML5, or at least publish a subset of it that we all agree is ready for implementation, soon. We’ve also got to ensure that accessibility serves as an important design principle in the emerging web platform, and resolve sticky differences here. Also, an open standard does not an open platform make, as debates about web fonts and audio/video codecs show. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but for now, 5 years after the summer we started the ball rolling, we’re enjoying the hype around (R)evolution Number 5.