Web Standards development at the W3C TPAC 2010

November 30th, 2010

Last year I wrote about the W3C’s annual Technical Plenary and Advisory Committee (TPAC) conference. This is where most of the W3C working groups get together for a week of face to face meetings and networking. TPAC 2010 was a couple of weeks ago and here I will highlight some of the topics discussed by the groups where we participate.

The W3C has a long history as the venue for agreeing on web standards and continues to be the place where the most important web standards are developed. We’re actively engaged in the development of many web standards at the W3C and, as part of that work, we sent a dozen people from Microsoft to represent Internet Explorer at TPAC this year.

The consistent theme at TPAC 2010 is that working groups are making significant progress on completing the most important next generation of web standards: moving key specifications towards Last Call and a focus on defining test suites that measure the completeness of implementations. At the same time there is renewed attention on innovating for the future of the web at the W3C.

Working Group Reports

The CSS working group (minutes part1 part2 part3 part4) discussed the progress of the CSS 2.1 specification and test suite and added more detail to the plan to finish this work. Based on feedback generated from completing the last set of implementation reports, the group has updated the test suite and expects one more round of feedback and review. The group is on track to move CSS 2.1 to Recommendation early in 2011.

The work in this group is a good example of closing down a key specification while innovating for the future. Once CSS 2.1 is complete, the group will be able to focus all its time on progressing CSS3 modules. CSS3 isn’t a single monolithic document like CSS 2.1. Instead it is a series of modules each providing a set of features that builds upon the CSS 2.1 foundation. During the meeting we presented a new proposal for Grid Layout in CSS3. The group agreed to move the spec to as an Editor’s Draft, the very first step of the standardisation process, and the discussions continue about how to proceed.

Example of Grid Layout proposal showing growth in grid due to increase in available space

The Fonts working group (minutes part1 part2) made further progress on the WOFF specification that allows custom fonts to be included in your pages. You can see how IE9 supports WOFF on the IE Test Drive. The WOFF spec moved to Last Call indicating that it is functionally complete and ready for wider review.

Location based services and applications are increasingly important to the modern web. The Geolocation working group (minutes) spent time working through the issues list for the Geolocation API specification. There was a discussion about how the working group will continue its work and the features that might be in the next version of the API.

The HTML working group (minutes track1 track2) discussed a wide range of topics. The group uses an unconference meeting style and typically runs two parallel meeting tracks. Two of the key sessions were related to accessibility and testing. There was more discussion of how to support media accessibility and the measures to provide improved accessibility for canvas. The working group continues to make good progress moving HTML5 towards Last Call according to the timetable established in September.

There were two sessions on testing related to the HTML5 test suite. The group worked through the process of creating tests and discussed the test harness used by tests. Anyone can submit tests (with the appropriate license assignment) so if you’re interested in helping you should start with the instructions on the Wiki.

The SVG working group (minutes part1 part2) also discussed testing and how to move forward with the SVG 1.1 Second Edition test suite. As we’ve discussed before, some of the SVG features overlap with CSS3 modules and there was a meeting of the joint “Effects” task force between the SVG and CSS working groups. The task force discussed how to make progress on specs for transforms, transitions, animations, and filters.

The WebApps working group (minutes part1 part2) spent a significant amount of time discussing database specifications. The group decided to issue a Call for Consensus to transition the WebSQL specification to be a Working Group Note. This means that the spec will make no further progress along the standards track. Instead, the group spent the majority of the time discussing issues with the Indexed DB specification. There wasn’t enough time to cover everything during the main WebApps meeting and so members from Google, Microsoft and Mozilla had a breakout session to continue the discussion and work on the remaining issues. We made good progress at TPAC and the specification looks set to move to Last Call early in 2011.

Technical Plenary Day

On the Wednesday of TPAC there was a plenary session. Here the members of all the working groups present joined together for a series of panel discussions and 3-minute “lightning talks”. This was a great opportunity for cross-group discussions between the different working groups.

On the morning of the plenary, there were browser demonstrations from Microsoft, Opera, and Mozilla. Frank Olivier from the Internet Explorer team showed some of the uses of W3C HTML5 on the sites featured on the Beauty of the Web showcase and also highlighted the CSS3 2D Transforms support shown in Flickr Postcards and included in IE9 Platform Preview 6.

The next session was a panel discussion on the future of HTML including thoughts about what “HTML6” might be. Patrick Dengler, another Program Manager on the IE team, gave a presentation based on a paper he had submitted. He discussed the need to bring sound engineering principles to the development of web standards. We all build software and web sites based on use cases, scenarios, and modular design and Patrick talked about how the process we follow as we build the next generation of web standards at W3C should also follow these principles.

What Next?

There is tremendous progress happening at the W3C across a broad range of important web standards. The large amount of activity in all the face-to-face meetings generates a lot of follow-on work. For example, W3C extended both the CSS and Geolocation working group charters and the WOFF spec went to Last Call. There is much more for the web community and the working groups to do together in the year ahead. We’re excited to be part of that work and we will continue to provide updates through the IE Blog.

Adrian Bateman
Program Manager