Standards group recommends XHTML 1.0

It's not just another acronym. XHTML could help Web content spread to all digital devices.

A new programming specification just recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium is expected to help move the Web beyond PCs and on to a wider array of wireless devices.

XHTML 1.0 is the result of rewriting HTML 4.0 -- the markup language behind millions of Web pages -- as an Extensible Markup Language application. XML enables more-complicated Web services such as e-commerce and personalisation.

"The Web of the future is an XML Web," said W3C spokeswoman Janet Daly. "We have all of this data mostly in HTML format, and we want to be able to do new things with it, but we can't because it has restrictions to it." Those restrictions include an inability to easily manipulate data and combine HTML documents. By adopting a language that incorporates both HTML and XML, Web content developers are essentially creating a middle ground.

Clay Ryder, chief analyst for Zona Research, compared XML and HTML to two people who speak different languages. The creation of XHTML gives the two people a third language to place in context the words or phrases they don't understand.

Unlike HTML, which forces developers to overhaul their Web pages every time they need to merge data with Web-page layout, XHTML enables developers to manage data and Web pages on the fly. This should improve the performance of wireless devices by optimising the code and requiring the device to process only what's necessary.

XHTML's ability to manipulate data also offers benefits to e-commerce sites by making them more interactive. "It will allow suppliers and sellers and buyers to exchange more information with one another," Ryder said. "It will help in the matter of interaction or data exchange and combining and re-using information from a variety of sources and sites."

Average consumers are unlikely to notice any difference in their Web experience because of the new standard, since XHTML is backward-compatible with documents created with HTML 4.0. That means the major browsers, such as Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator, which already support HTML 4.0, will also be able to handle XHTML. Going forward, use of XHTML should broaden the number of devices that can access information off the Web and increase the capabilities of devices that already do, such as personal digital assistants and cellular phones.

The W3C membership spent about a year reviewing the specification before issuing its recommendation Wednesday. It is currently reviewing the next version, XHTML 1.1, which will incorporate Composite Capability/Preference Profiles (CC/PP), a protocol that allows users to describe preferences and device capabilities.

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