HTML and xHTML Explained
HTML is an acronym for HyperText Markup Language. It is one of the scripting (or coding) languages used by website designers to build your webpages. xHTML is a markup language that has the same expressive possibilities as HTML, but a stricter syntax.
HTML is composed of numerous 'tags' that are used by your web-browser to determine how your web-pages should be displayed. It also specifies how web documents should interact with other web-documents through the use of hyperlinks. HTML is an embedded language meaning that the HTML tags are inserted in amongst the words and graphics that you want displayed within your web page. To ensure that your browser doesn't display the HTML directions, HTML tags are enclosed inside a pair of less-than (<) and greater-then (>) characters.
e.g. <title>Your Title Goes Here</title>
Structure vs Presentation
Originally HTML was designed to describe the structure of a webpage, so its core tags define areas of your page such as titles, headers, paragraphs, hyperlinks etc. As the web developed the number of HTML tags increased allowing greater control of presentation such as bold or italic type, and also layout using complicated designs based on numerous tables. HTML was never designed for this purpose and soon websites became more and more complex and bloated. In addition to other problems caused by using HTML for layout and presentation, websites became time-consuming and expensive to build and maintain.
To make matters worse, not all browsers supported all the HTML tags and some used tags of their own which soon meant that websites displayed differently from browser to browser. It soon became apparent that this situation was far from ideal, so a consortium was established to encourage uniformity and conformance for HTML and the browsers that use it. Once again it was recommended that HTML be used to describe the structural elements of a web page and CSS be used to control the layout and presentation of these elements.
Many web designers still use HTML for layout and presentation, and I must admit to having used it in that way in the past. Here at Pixelwave Design I now however use HTML or xHTML for structural markup only and CSS for presentation and layout. For more information on the benefits of this method please read my pages on CSS and Building Conforming Websites