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The Struggle to Create a Standard
Before HTML 2.0 was officially defined, several attempts had been made to codify the language. Many conferences and mailing list discussions (on 'www-talk' and later 'www-html') document the frequently changing capabilities of the HTML language. In January, 1992 the first public release of CERN's text-mode browser (version 1.1) was released. By this time, a library of code consisting of the basic web browser building blocks was commonly available. Within a short time, many browsers had appeared that often had differing features and HTML capabilities. This helped to fracture the already unstandardized HTML language even further.
In April 1993, Tim Berners-Lee gave responsibility for the HTML language to Dave Raggett. This resulted in the release in June, 1993 of an internet draft document by Berners-Lee and Raggett for the 'Hypertext Markup Language, Ver 1.0.' One of the main tenets in this proposal was:
"Any standard must not make existing documents (as far as possible) unreadable."The HTML 1.0 Internet Draft later expired while the noise continued about solidifying HTML. To complicate matters, yet more continental drift had occurred in the language in the intervening months since HTML 1.0's arrival. New features were still being added to browsers to accommodate new HTML features such as fill out form support, and server-side image mapping.
The Development of HTML 2.0
A strong voice in the effort to codify HTML using proper SGML was Dan Connolly, who had previous experience with online documentation tools and formal systems. In April 1994, Dan Connolly created a new draft for the language, then named 'HTML 2.0' (note: he has since been the primary author and editor for much of the HTML standards material that has been created to date.) This initial draft was soon revamped and rewritten by Karen Muldrow in July 1994 and subsequently was presented at an IETF meeting that summer in Toronto. The primary focus of this draft was to capture common HTML practice in web browsers as of June 1994.
A HyperText Markup Language Working Group was then created to help shepherd the ratification process. This time, the proposal stuck. The proposal was further refined into an Internet Draft (RFC 1866) which became a proposed standard near the end of September, 1995. By the time HTML 2.0 was ratified, most browsers fully supported it.
HTML Conformance Levels
The World Wide Web workshop in 1994 decided that HTML could be broken down into several "levels." These levels would indicate that an HTML parsing mechanism capable of implementing a given level would be required to also implement levels below it. Therefore, the '2.0' in 'HTML 2.0' was initially meant to be a conformance level indicator to represent browser capabilities rather than a historical version number.
Why it is important
HTML 2.0 was the base standard by which all browsers were measured until HTML 3.2. Its properties define the basic working abilities of almost all current browsers. This standard is also the benchmark that was in effect during the great explosion of popularity of the web.