I wasn’t planning to weigh in much on this subject, but I’ve been asked by several people for my thoughts, so here we go…
This decision by the W3C to not renew the charter for the XHTML 2 Working Group has, rather unfortunately, brought out the worst in the Web standards community. Sure, as a community, we’re prone to holy wars over seemingly inconsequential things—
acronym, use vs. abuse of definition lists, etc.—but this move has sparked a particularly ugly fight between proponents of XHTML and its detractors (primarily those folks who think it’s pointless to use XHTML if you aren’t serving it with an XML MIME type).
Personally, I have mixed feelings about the decision. I think there were a lot of good ideas in XHTML 2 (everything can be a link, for one), but it also had a number of shortcomings. I feel much the same about HTML 5; some of the new elements make a lot of sense, but others seem to be solving a problem that really wasn’t there to begin with.
In the end, I think this is probably a good move for the W3C as it will, hopefully, allow them to reallocate resources to projects that need them.
But does it mean I think XHTML is a failure? No.
I think XHTML was a phenomenal success as it made us look at HTML in a new light. It forced us to think about how we marked up documents and applied much-needed pressure on developers to make smarter decisions. Without it, I dare say the Web standards movement would never have gotten as much traction as it did and we would still be in the midst of the browser war started more than a dozen years ago.