History of HTML

Gareth O'Connor - 2812402


HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) is the principal language used in the creation of web pages. The language was originally developed by Tim Berners-Lee, while he was a contractor working with CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), as a way to quickly and easily access data. HTML was very simple in the early days, with a limited set of tags, and simply provided users with the ability to link to and from other documents.

The first version of HTML was known as HTML 1.0 and consisted of only 22 tags. At this stage Berners-Lee also wrote the World‘s first web browser - WorldWideWeb

Web users ultimately want to get at data quickly and easily. They don't care as much about attractive sites and pretty design. (Berners-Lee, no date of publication)

The quote above is taken from the early day's of the web, sometime in the 90's. For the most part the statement still stands today, over a decade later. Today's web users do want data quickly - it's advised to keep page load speeds to < 3 seconds, but they do also value design, whether consciously or sub consciously. Good User Interface design allows users to easily navigate a site achieving both their own and the site's goals.

Whether you are helping to launch a new business from scratch, or making incremental changes to an existing product, or something in between, any design task you undertake must serve a goal. It's your job to find out what these goals are. That's the first to designing anything. (Monteiro, 2012)


HTML 2.0

HTML 2.0 was not much of an extension of HTML 1.0 but it did define many of the HTML features for the first time.
It was used a web design standard until January 1997


HTML 3.0

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By 1997 the internet and World Wide Web was getting more and more popular, spawning a new wave of web designers. These new designers were not happy with the limitations of the existing HTML 2.0 standard and pushed for abilities to allow the creation of more visually appealing web pages.

The problem with HTML 3.0 was that the two Microsoft and Netscape, the two leading vendors at the time, did not adopt many of the new attributes in the spec. These vendors had instead began to develop proprietary tags of their own. Something had to be done to ensure that vendors would adhere to a single HTML standard, and so the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) was born.


HTML 3.2

The W3C elected to drop HTML 3.0 and instead focussed on adopting the functionality introduced by the vendors, releasing this standard as HTML 3.2. HTML 3.2 was less technologically advanced than 3.0 but did provide a universal standard which both Netscape and Microsoft developers could adhere to.


HTML 4.0

HTML 4.0 was a vast improvement on 3.2 and contained a lot of the 3.0 functionality which was dropped from 3.2. HTML 4.0 included a number of exciting new features such as, CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), scripting, frames, internationalization and accessibility. CSS allowed web designers to seperate web page style from content. Prior to this styling web pages was very labour intensive, repetitive work requiring designers to mark up individual html tags. CSS reduced the workload and allowed designers to make changes across multiple pages with a single style change.

Big changes came with HTML 4.0. It was a huge step in the evolution of HTML.(Landofcode.com, no date of publication)

The HTML 4.0 spec was well applied to Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser but Netscape's Navigator 4.7 did not fair so well and was extremely buggy.

This may well be the only point in the history of the web when Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) was praised over alternative browsers. IE6, in particular, is the root of all evil for many web developers.


HTML 4.0.1

Shortly after the release of HTML 4.0 the spec was revised and cleaned up. The spec allowed the W3C to apply corrections to errors 4.0. HTML 4.0.1 was the finalised version of the HTML 4.0 spec and was the last classic implementation of HTML.



In 1998, when the W3C were finalising the HTML 4.0 specification they decided that the future of the web was not HTML but XHTML - a HTML / XML (EXtensible Markup Language) hybrid.

The key difference between the first specification - XHTML 1.0, and HTML 4.0.1 was that XHTML adopted the stricter XML markup rules. XHTML 1.0 was also cleaner and more efficient than HTML 4.0.

XHTML 2.0 followed soon after 1.0 but upset a lot of the browser vendors due to it's lack of support for backwards compatability.

The trouble with XHTML 2.0 is that it wasn't backwards compatible with the markup already on the Web — the elements worked differently, XHTML did not work properly in Internet Explorer, which still has the majority browser marketshare as of the time of writing, the developer tools available weren't ready for working with XML, and it didn't reflect what web developers were REALLY doing out there in the wild wild web. (Mills, 2011)

This led to the formation of the WHATWG (Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group) break-away group comprised of developers, implementers and software vendors. The aim of WHATWG was to redirect the future of the web back to HTML and away from the XML direction which the W3C were taking. The W3C however finally realised that XHTML 2.0 was perhaps not the best course of action and joined forces with WHATWG to create the new HTML WG (HTML Working Group).



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HTML5 is the latest and current version of HTML and is the first specification developed by the new HTML Working Group. It became a ‘Candidate Recommendation’ in December 2012, which effectively meant it was completed. As ever though this does not necessarily mean there will be full browser support for it. Currently, according to html5test.com, Maxthon 4.0 is topping the browser support charts, with Google Chrome in close second.

The future of HTML, like the web, will be ever-changing and will evolve along with the ever-changing needs of the user. HTML5, along with CSS3, together have made huge technological leaps in the right direction and will no doubt ensure that developers spend more time developing and less time scratching their heads wondering why their design is broken in IE6!

The date that really matters for HTML5 is 2012. That's when the specification is due to become a ‘candidate recommendation.‘ That's standards-speak for ‘done and dusted.’ (Keith, 2010)