HTML 4.0 Approved

Thomas Dowling tdowling at
Thu Dec 18 16:35:36 EST 1997

The World Wide Web Consortium announced today (12/18) that it has issued
HTML 4.0 as a W3C Recommendation.  HTML 4.0 is actually issued in 3 flavors:
strict, transitional, and frameset (yes, framesets can actually now be
created with valid HTML).  W3C also introduced an HTML validation service.

To the extent that the W3C is a standards body, their Recommendations are
their standards documents.  IOW, HTML 4.0 is now the third "official"
version of HTML, after 2.0 and 3.2.  Notable features include significant
extensions to tables, support for frames and scripts, and reliance on
stylesheets (the strict flavor appears to allow no presentational elements
or attributes at all except for <B> and <I>).  The default character set is
now ISO 10646 (essentially Unicode) instead of ISO Latin1.

Press release of the announcement:
HTML 4.0 specification:
W3C HTML Validator:
DTDs and related texts: (Strict DTD) (Loose DTD) (Frameset DTD) (Latin-1 entities) (Symbol entities) (Special entities)
Changes between version 3.2 and 4.0:
Microsoft's promise to support HTML 4.0 (hold them to it--right
  after they complete work on HTML 2.0):
Netscape's promise to support HTML 4.0:
  Uhh, guys?  "Search found 0 documents"?  They haven't
  even addressed the subject?  The draft has been out
  for almost half a year.

Random thoughts on the subject (and I'll warn you that I'm running a mild
fever):  I had the, er, "opportunity" today to revise a document which my
boss had imported from HTML into Word 97 and then saved back into something
with a .htm file extension.  It was a rat's nest of mis-nested tags,
extraneous paragraphs, and generally chaotic markup.  I like what I've come
to know about HTML 4.0, but it has this drawback: it is a more complex
language than its predecessors.  I think it's close to a point where very
few people will want to craft it by hand, even if they know how, and that
means that its success relies increasingly on accurate tools.  I find it
discouraging that the most heavily used HTML editors out there create such
lousy HTML.  Wasn't one of Microsoft's early strengths their programming
tools?  Don't they know how to make editors nest things in proper order?  If
their premiere word processor can't come close to writing HTML 3.2, can I
rely on any of their products to write HTML 4.0?

I feel like the power and flexibility of HTML 4.0 presents us, as a
community of Web developers, with a challenge, but I'm having a hard time
articulating to myself exactly what that challenge is.  I don't particularly
like the way the Web is being steered and I'm suspicious of whose hands are
on the rudder.  I can imagine a powerful suite of standards creating a rich
environment for creating and distributing online information, but I also see
around me a grubby power grab that consists of capitalizing on proprietary
hacks, and the result increasingly strikes me as a corpus of sales brochures
and product catalogs, a World Wide Vertical File.

I find myself wondering if HTML 4.0 isn't one of the final chances to switch
to that other Web, and I'm bothered both my Microsoft's promise of
support--on which they clearly haven't carried through--and Netscape's lack
of a promise.  I'm bothered that I can already go to a bookstore and find
books claiming to cover HTML 4.0 that obviously do about as well as the ones
still claiming to cover HTML 3.0 (my "Hmm, there's an index entry for
<CENTER> but not for <COLGROUP> or <Q>" test).

In short, I wonder if this new tool will ever be put to use, or if a net
full of HTML-hacks-as-bad-page-layout Web authors can be coaxed into trying
things a new way.

Thomas Dowling
OhioLINK - Ohio Library and Information Network
tdowling at

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