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Old-fashioned HTML?

HTML is not outdated, ye mangy gits

Faruk and Hayo were teaming up against Anne and me the other day, and it was about HTML. Now, you might say, that fight is already over, is it not? Well, it seems it isn’t. Anne is a lover of good code, and that’s no secret. He writes HTML occasionally and writes perfect XHTML too (be it with Arthur Steiner). Faruk is against the former, because, he says, HTML is obsoleted by XHTML.

Now I’m asking you, why is that? Of course, clients want to see XHTML, the big new buzzword that’s spread the web. HTML is nothing less. Okay, it isn’t eXtensible, but for most corporate sites (that have to get their designers elsewhere – bigger companies tend to have their own coders), that same extensibility isn’t needed at all. I know the battle has been fought, but if you’re as good as convincing your clients to ‘upgrade’ to XHTML, you should also advice them to use HTML if they have no use for XML or whatever spankin’ technology they might never need. Of course, the marketing trick is XHTML, but as soon as they know that HTML is nothing less, you’ve come a long way as a developer. But you did use HTML, and that’s what Hayo and Faruk didn’t like. “It’s deprecated,” “it’s so 90s”. Utter bull. HTML isn’t dead. HTML is still alive and evolving. There is no point in using XHTML instead of HTML when the advantages are lost.

(Short rant on semantics and forward-compatibility…)

HTML can be as strict and semantic as you like. Get your client to know that HTML isn’t necessarily tag-soup, table-based and outdated. It’s stupid to think that HTML is not forward-compatible. Why deprecate HTML when it’s still in use on 97% or something on the internet?

(That be all on that matter.)

I can’t ignore the fact that clients ‘prefer’ XHTML, but if you don’t try to convince them, they will soon be nagging about faulty code. And then you are the culprit. Of course, you can make your client one spiffy XHTML 1.1 spitting CMS (Faruk, I look at you here), but that’s not the case for all developers. Web Standards aren’t about XHTML. HTML is a standard too. Web Standards is about compatibility, usability, semantics and (discussably) validation.

Arthur told me that XHTML is one of the means of progression, but I’m not saying one should not use XHTML. I’m saying that it’s not wrong to use HTML. Thank you Arthur ;)

Just before posting: In the nick of time, Jacques Distler makes the case for HTML. Somewhat.

MIME-types on the Zooiblog

On another note, I’ve recently switched to application/xhtml+xml. It works like a charm. However, faulty code is still bugging me. Please be valid with your comments, and if you’re not, mail me ASAP. Your response will be highly appreciated.


  1. Hold it right there. Yes, it may seem like I was ganging up on Anne. Therefore I should explain myself. I firmly believe correct XHTML ís the way to go. Most sites I’m currently developing for (real world) clients are XHTML 1.1 with correct mime-type, and a content management system to match.

    The point was, if you can use XHTML as a selling point for webstandards, you should, because webstandards are good. IF however you build a site in XHTML and it doesn’t validate, you should shut up about it being valid XHTML! Sure, it’s a step in the right direction, ditching tables and all.

    I can imagine large websites are limited by the garbage their (very expensive) content management systems spit out. In those cases you should asses whether you should or shouldn’t use XHTML or HTML.

    The problem is, nobody ever reads the entire W3c spec of XHTML. Most people don’t know about mime-types, because for them, it isn’t a real world problem. It is looked upon as an elitist point made by ivory tower designers, who don’t have any real world experience. Therefore I say, pleaassssee validation nuts, spread the word of mime-types in a more friendly way, instead of giving up and returning to HTML.

  2. I think for now we shouldn’t argue about wether using XHTML is the best thing to do (with or without valid mime-type) or if HTML is deprecated.
    For me it’s more important that webdevelopers focus on usability and accessibilty rather than the right webtechnology to use. Sure XHTML will someday be the thing to use, for now, it doesn’t really matter yet. HTML is still perfectly acceptable to use, I can’t see why it would be deprecated in favour XHTML right now.

    Personally I use xhtml (without the correct mimetype - sue me) to force myself to get used to the new style of writing webpages, but I wouldn’t promote it towards clients just yet (using XHTML over HTML). What I do tell them is that I use stylesheets and tell them the advantages this way of developing has, both for the initial development as in redesigns, and why I think it’s important to develop websites this way.

    So I think XHTML itself shouldn’t be a selling-point towards clients; semantic, clean markup and stylesheets should be.

    If I could recommend new webdesigners a markuplanguage to learn, I would recommend XHTML for it’s stricter nature. I also ofcourse promote a better browser than IE, because IE in particular have taught me some nasty habits in the past.

    Now let’s not get carried away, to conclude: In my eyes there’s nothing wrong with using HTML right now as long as you’re not using font tags and excessive tables. (If you look at XHTML as a plasmascreen, it will be the future of tvs, but a HTML TV will do just fine on the current web).

  3. NO!

    NO NO NO and NO!

    Rob, I am totally with you about this... There is no way in hell that HTML will become depreciated... At least, not for another couple decades.

    Realistically, HTML is still useful... Take myself for instance. I like XHTML.. I adore it. I wouldn’t mind writing all my stuff for an XML platform. But I’m a web app developer. I know that the majority of my clients that use my CMS system won’t know semantic markup if it came up and tweaked their beard.

    What’s worse: What if I want to incorporate a WYSIWYG application into my software...? I’d use something like HTMLArea, because most enterprise WYSIWYG editors that provide XHTML markup (i.e. http://xstandard.com/ ) only work on Windows IIS servers. So I have to deal with something that will for a while yet still have non-valid image markup, or a font tag with a style attribute. Or gasp a center tag.... This doesn’t mean that serving up my mime type as HTML is bad... just means I’m taking care to provide the proper environment for my clients needs.

    Many of the enterprise CMS systems out there are still being written with HTML - tables, font tags and so forth... SOME are XHTML, but that’s only half the battle... They have it in their features list and that’s about it. They don’t educate the client. The client uses a center tag in their markup while posting a news release, and all the developer’s hard work is down the drain. Either the developer needs to do a post-markup search and replace, or turn a blind eye to it.

    I think that people like Anne are a godsend. Clients need to be educated. There are articles for developers. But what about articles for enterprise web developers, to show to their clients...? The average company owner knows about XHTML if they spend any time on the web. They know about CSS... But they don’t know the nuts and bolts behind it, and this needs to change.

    We as developers try to educate our clients, or educate our bosses to educate our clients, but until they see some benefits (or some cold, hard numbers) they won’t truely understand.


  4. Amen! I’ve been hit over the head about this for some time now, even had my thoughts described as “elitist BS”.
    The main thing we can do to promote web standards is to advocate strict doctypes. Separation of structure, presentation and behaviour is more important than extensibility for all but a few sites.
    HTML 4.01 Strict is much better for web standards than XHTML 1.0 Transitional, regardless of what media type is used for the latter.

  5. Regarding HTML vs. XHTML, I have no easy solutions, except when you want to use XSLT to turn those pages into WML or something like that on the fly.

    As for mime-types, I used XHTML 1.0 Strict which can be served as text/html so I don’t have to fiddle with mod_rewrite because of IE.

  6. I love XSLT so I need XHTML in my CMS because I define my own tags and then use XSLT to replace my tags with code snippets when the page is served-up. I could just as easily serve the page as HTML 4 but what’s the point when the page is already in XHTML?

    Shade, I use Xstandard with PHP on FreeBSD. And now it works in FF.

  7. Shade,

    HTML Tidy is an excellent tool for dealing with input from WYSIWYG editors. Additionally, may I recommend Editize (in combination with Tidy) to you? It’s a java-based editor, but it does work really nice for most things, is very user-friendly and works in virtually all browsers and operating systems. No, I’m not affiliated with them in any way, I’m just a very satisfied customer. :) Only thing it lacks is being able to deal with horrible HTML-pastes, but that’s what I have HTML Tidy for (which can be set to output XHTML and XML too).

Participate, yes!

(Rock out with Textile; it's what the cool people use!)