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Web developers criticize Microsoft and Netscape

August 13, 1998
Web posted at: 12:15 PM EDT

by Lisa Moskowitz

(IDG) -- You download this really cool accelerator that's supposed to let you surf the Web 30 times faster than using a browser alone. But when you install it, you find out that it's not compatible with your current browser.

How annoying is that? Very. And according to the Web Standards Project, a new group championing standards in the Web development industry, browser incompatibility is just as irritating for software makers and Web site developers. Aiming to make life easier for both users and developers, the WSP Tuesday called on browser makers to comply with the guidelines set by the World Wide Web Consortium, which sets software and display standards for the Web.

"There needs to be some cooperation," said Glenn Davis, a founding member of WSP and cofounder of Project Cool. "Someone should turn them [Netscape Communications and Microsoft] over the knee and spank them and say stop with the egos."

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Standards sought

The goal of the WSP is to encourage eventual implementation of all the World Wide Web Consortium's standards. For now, it's focusing on the following: Cascading Style Sheets 1, which describes how documents are presented; Document Object Model, which defines how elements on a Web page can be manipulated; and Extensible Markup Language, also known as XML, a "super" markup language for many kinds of documents and activities. Last year, the World Wide Web Consortium issued several protocols that have yet to be adopted in full by the two leading browser manufacturers. Those standards include HTML 4.0, CSS1, and DOM.

The WSP estimates that 25 percent of the cost of building a Web site is spent addressing browser incompatibilities. The cheaper, faster alternative is to build products and sites to one browser's specs, or to use only the simplest features that are supported by most browsers.

"Web designers want to use the standards but can't because they're inconsistent. They have to either ignore the new features altogether or create three or four different versions of the same site to get it to look right with different browsers," said Ann Navarro, vice president of finance for the HTML Writers Guild and founder of WebGeek Communications. "I would like to see the next releases of the browsers held off until they could support these [World Wide Web Consortium] standards," she said.

The next version of Microsoft's browser, Internet Explorer 5, does support Dynamic HTML and Cascading Style Sheets 2. These features will allow users to change how a Web page looks on their PC without affecting the Web site itself. The way CSS2 is used in IE5 also gives a Web site drag-and-drop capabilities.

Eric Byunn, group product manager for Netscape Communicator, could not go into details about Communicator 5.0, which is expected to be released in beta by year end. But he did say that discussions around Communicator 5.0 have included improving Dynamic HTML, CSS2, and XML.

"We're very involved with [the World Wide Web Consortium] and try to implement those standards that make sense as quickly as possible," Byunn said. "We agree with the direction of the WSP and firmly believe that for certain types of content, standards are the way to go."

Asked why Navigator 4.x doesn't better comply with the standards, Byunn replied that it's sometimes difficult to coordinate production schedules. "The current 4.0 browsers were released at a poor time given where the standards were at that point," he said. "Sometimes we work on a new version before the specs are finalized. That's when we have a split with some key standards."

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