I was asked in a formal situation recently, "If you were to build a new web site from scratch, which doctype would you use?".
Me: "Commercial site for a customer?"
"Just a site for the open web"
"Well, then I guess I'd have to say<!doctype html>"
I wish I had a camera for the look of shock and disbelief I was given in response. But the fact of the matter is that for modern browsers, HTML5 is an excellent alternative for new sites and applications. With the upcoming production release of Firefox 3.6 - and the inevitable hype that is surrounding it, I felt it was an opportune time to look at how the current mainstream browsers provide for the HTML5 specification.
HTML5 introduces several new elements that aim to simplify and clarify the most common structural elements on today's web pages. Most people will have heard about the canvas tag, possibly also the audio tag. Fewer will know about hgroup, aside or nav. Making your markup conform to HTML5 now can be very useful, clean and maintainable as long as you adhere to stable features that work in browsers now. In the same way that you wouldn't use anything in HTML4 or XHTML 1.x that doesn't work in browsers, neither would you start including every proposed HTML5 spec tag available just because it looks fun to use. The smartest approach is to use <!DOCTYPE html> with HTML4-like markup while honoring things that have been clarified in HTML5. HTML5 is about browser compatibility after all. The downside to using HTML5 now is that the spec can change quite often. This makes it important for you to keep up with the spec as it actively changes. Also HTML validation tools such as http://validator.nu/ or http://validator.w3.org/ aren't always up-to-date, but that shouldn't be a reason not to adopt HTML5 in its own right.
Over the next 12 months, you can expect to see interest, involvement in and adoption of HTML5 heat up considerably. Having a vehicle for tidier, more meaningful markup that will also cement proper, defined standards in the industry (and see the final death-throes of IE's fiendish quirks mode) is an absolute asset to web developers and internet users generally. So start getting involved and interested now!
- HTML5 Tag Reference: http://www.whoishostingthis.com/resources/html5-guide
- HTML5 Doctor: http://html5doctor.com/
- Dive Into Html5: http://diveintohtml5.org/