Web Standards development at the W3C TPAC 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 w3.org 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

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

Comments (24)

  1. Aeromis says:

    You all test all Browsers except Opera… hmmm I wonder why

  2. Jeffrey Gilbert says:

    please adopt geolocation in ie9

  3. Adrian Bateman [MSFT] says:

    Jeff Jaffe, W3C CEO, also blogged about TPAC today on the W3C Blog. You can read Jeff's thoughts on the progress made during the meeting here: http://www.w3.org/…/progress_in_lyon_-_tpac_2010.html

  4. Randall says:

    Dengler's paper and section in the minutes are fascinating, but…I'm torn.  HTML5 includes cool stuff that came about largely because some browser vendor implemented it first.  Cool stuff was probably made more widely usable more quickly because folks drew up an incomplete spec, then browser vendors worked from it and each other's behaviors.  And bringing up thousands of tiny questions through a test suite is the perfect way to make sure a spec is never finalized.

    I'm a Web developer; Lord knows I get the need for compatibility.  But I also really want to see the Web briskly moving forward even if it means bumps and bruises.  So I'd love to see -ms-transition even if we're not sure whether you can transition backgrounds from an image to a solid color.  Some IE6-like annoyances are bearable if they get fixed ASAP, aren't total blockers, and we have some sort of workaround.

    So I'm for extensive test suites built as the standards get written *if* they're compatible with a well-lubricated standardization process.  If we'd have to halve our speed of innovation for a little more interoperability, I'll put my faith in ninetysomething-percent compatibility out of the box, workarounds, and eventual fixes.

  5. 2B says:

    Greate Job! 光哥 = SB

  6. hAl says:

    @Jeff Glibert

    Since IE9 is not commenly used on mobile devices that have GPS, Geolocation is not a very usefull feature for IE9 compared to others. If Microsoft were to introduce Geolocation in a browser then they should prioritise to do so in the Windows Phone browser and not IE9 first.

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  9. FremyCompany says:

    Really well written article. It reflects how the W3C works in a very precisea and interesting way.

  10. Tom says:

    Are WebWorker and WebSocket also a topic of this working group?

    I am still confused, are WebWorkers and WebSockets part of the HTML5 standard? At least they are specified under the W3C.

    I would be very happy if IE9 support WebWorker and WebSockets.

  11. Jeffrey Gilbert says:


    IE browsers are used in the windows phones. On the desktop, they also do not rely upon GPS to generate locations, but rather ip to location algorithms. This isn't worse than guessing yourself from buying a several hundred dollar dump of ip 2 location data and building a backend system on your own. Problem 1, all the other browsers support this feature for HTML5. Problem 2, it's costly to implement on your own. Problem 3, if you go with the free solution, you're subject to making calls to geoip services, which again is a costly endeavor if you have any real amount of traffic that would demand you setup a heavy dose of caching and potentially licensing. Just bundle the feature in IE9. It's valuable. Twitter and facebook are already using it where browser support is available. More would if it became a mainstream adopted standard by IE9.

  12. Jeffrey Gilbert says:


    The HTML5 standard is a myth. It's a working draft and not even a release candidate. The spec can't be a standard because it's still changing all the time. Browser vendors are doing what they can to build in the features that are pretty hammered out, but there are definitely still areas that are grey. From what I know from following the IE blog, the MSIE team has done it's part to steer clear of implementing production features where the spec isn't finished so it doesn't break backwards compatibility in the future as has been done by IE6, 7, and 8. WebWorkers and WebSockets would definitely be cool, though. Maybe by the time this turkey ships, the W3C will have things a bit more ironed out.

  13. Josh says:

    I'm a bit curious about the Grid Layout proposal. I really like it, but doesn't the flexible box model share a similar purpose?

  14. Alex Lein says:

    Interesting article, but my comment must be expressed in macro form: zeroreality.net/…/ieteamofftheball.jpg

  15. Sylvain Galineau [MSFT] says:

    Josh, a highly simplified answer is that Flexbox addresses the formatting and layout of UI elements such as a set of controls. It is not intended or designed to layout a full page. You would use it to layout a toolbar, or a set of buttons or even a small dialog box. You would not use it to layout your entire page. Modules such as Grid and Template Layout are concerned with the layout of the whole page or application. So in practice, you would design your grid then use flexbox in cells of the grid.

  16. Mikael Emmott says:

    Hi! Don't know where to write this, but please make home, back and forward -buttons clickable with the scroll wheel, like google chrome did. So it opens in a new tab. Its really annoying cause i want to use it.

    And btw, thanks microsoft, im a PC guy but i think you have been lazy for a couple of years, i liked Vista, and Win 7 but internet explorer has felt like a stone age program. Im really glad that you can mkae clean, beutiful, and quick and easy to use programs like with ie 9. Just small things like you have shaped up the icons and such things.

    I am on the verge to get a mac,but i hope windows 8 and future programs from you will incorporate this new approach. For me when programs are easy to use and look great and are fast, it makes all the difference. Dont want my extremly expensive computer to run things that look, feel and act like sh*t.

    BTW if you want style/function tips from me i gladely will ge it for free. Noone would be happier than me if you made me not to change to mac.

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  18. Matt says:

    The reason why IE (and IE9) will not be adding geolocation is that the new windowz fone 7 is designed so you can get in and out ASAP and knowing where you are would just slow that whole process down.  Windowz fone 7 was designed to almost, but not quite be as good as any other phone out there and thus they had to try and convince users not to install apps or spend time using the phone so that they could claim long battery life.

    they sooo wish they could be half as good as an iphone or android but that just won't happen until they ditch IE as the browser on the device.

    Oh well?!?

  19. David S says:

    The Standards body is a failure. Human life is simply too short to wait on these standards. In comparison Virgin Galactic was able to do a full test flight from an idea on paper in 5 years (with human life at risk from a failed launch). Yet an HTML standard could take 20 yrs (seriously?). This is why Flash will always own. They keep adapting, advancing and will always be many steps ahead of any open standard.

  20. Chris Hynes says:

    When are you finally going to implement the HTML5 file API?

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  22. Matthew says:

    You know what's annoying about this?  Read this:  http://www.w3.org/…/types.html

    The Multi-Length value addressed grid layouts, but to my knowledge, NO BROWSER has ever implemented this entirely useful part of HTML4.  Sure, I understand the need to have it in CSS, but maybe CSS would have gotten their sooner, if browsers had implemented HTML4 sooner.  That's right, no browser on the market today has finished putting HTML4 in place, and now we're introducing HTML5.

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