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XHTML and MIME (was: IBM Position Statement on XForms and Web Forms 2.0)

From: Doug Schepers <doug@schepers.cc>
Date: Thu, 31 Aug 2006 18:27:11 -0400
To: <public-appformats@w3.org>, <www-forms@w3.org>, <www-archive@w3.org>
Message-Id: <20060831222714.27F7D17DAE@postalmail-a2.dreamhost.com>

Hi-
 
There seems to be a major divide between people who believe that XHTML
cannot or should not be used on the Web (largely because IE does not yet
understand it), and those that believe it can and should.

It is this fundamental schism that must be resolved before we can all reach
a solution to this current debate that we are happy with.  I'm going to
outline the debate as I see it, but if I have missed the subtleties of some
argument, it is through an error and not malice.

Ian Hickson, the champion of the first camp, has outlined his position [1]
in a paper that seems to be the seminal claim for the notion that XHTML
cannot be served with the "text/html" MIME Type.  This paper is often cited,
but doesn't discuss content negotiation.  Ian has substantiated and expanded
his claim with a study of existing Web content (which he performed at
Google), that seems to indicate that even content which is meant to be XHTML
(regardless of the MIME Type) is in the main not valid or well-formed (IIRC,
though I don't know how that compares with the validity/well-formedness of
existing HTML content).  The conclusion seems to be that XHTML, and by
extension XML, is suboptimal, and that the path forward on the Web should be
based on HTML, which is viewable in legacy browsers (i.e. IE).

The other camp believes that the pragmatic benefits of serving XHTML
outweigh the technicalities described by Ian.  They believe that the
proliferation of XML-based tools and UAs, and the more extensible nature of
XML as regards namespaces and mixed content, as well as other benefits of
XML, are more compelling than the current state of some browsers, which are
subject to change.  The practicalities of this approach are described by the
Web Standards Project [2], which explicitly resolves the MIME Type issue via
content negotiation or a relaxed MIME Type.  Ian's larger claim that even if
served with the correct MIME Type, much existing content will largely still
not be viewable with existing browsers is not addressed by this argument,
but is presumed to be a transitional phenomenon.  

Thoughts?  Did I correctly frame the debate?

[1] http://www.hixie.ch/advocacy/xhtml 
[2] http://www.webstandards.org/learn/articles/askw3c/sep2003/ 

Regards-
Doug
Received on Thursday, 31 August 2006 22:27:29 GMT

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