December 2, 1996 10:00 AM ET
Microsoft, Netscape to take separate paths with HTML
By Michael Moeller And Norvin Leach

  Microsoft Corp. and Netscape Communications Corp., each preparing to ship browser updates early next year, will do so with HTML enhancements of their own design.

As a result, the World Wide Web Consortium is considering using both sets of enhancements to create a new standard for the Internet hypertext language.

Microsoft's Internet Explorer 4.0, due in beta testing by the end of January, will feature Dynamic HTML (code-named Trident), an object model for HTML. Netscape's debut of Communicator, also due in January, will support HTML enhancements such as absolute positioning and layering of graphics.

Neither company is planning to support the other's browser enhancements by the time they ship. However, Microsoft and Netscape officials believe the two sets of extensions will eventually merge, with help from the W3C.

The W3C is considering setting up an ERB (Editorial Review Board) to focus on HTML object programming. This would allow Microsoft, Netscape and others to hammer out extension compatibility issues, according to sources.

The current HTML ERB is preparing a draft of HTML 4.0, formerly code-named Cougar, that supports object embedding tags, internationalization and style sheets, said the sources.

Although Web site developers said they would find an object model useful, few of them will actually use the technology until either the market or a standards committee has settled on a common implementation.

"One of the unfortunate problems of the Web is this constant, huge standards fight," said Ken Locker, executive producer with MGM Interactive, in Santa Monica, Calif. "If you had to reconfigure your TV every time you changed the channel, you'd never stand for it."

Microsoft's Dynamic HTML rendering engine, included in Internet Explorer 4, will bring more power to the browser by allowing users to change pages on the client side without calling the server.

A Dynamic HTML stream can include scripts that let users call up additional screens of information connected to a single page, such as a table of contents.

In addition, the Dynamic HTML engine lets users cut, paste and manipulate text on a Web page. The revised page can be saved on the client and can be saved on the server if the user has Write permission.

Navigator's HTML enhancements are primarily focused on Web site layout and appearance.

Netscape's Absolute position technology is designed to enable any text or image to be placed anywhere on a page. Currently, Web site designers are limited to only positioning items on the left, right or center.

Layering enables images or text to be overlaid. Similar to features in Dynamic HTML, the new layering HTML syntax enables the overlaying of items and the creation of pop-up features that are activated when a button or hot spot is clicked.

JavaScript Style Sheets, designed to be the next generation of Cascade Style Sheets, will allow a developer to script intelligence into style sheets, thus removing the declarative programming syntax currently used with style sheets.

Netscape officials added that Communicator also will provide native support for the standard Cascading Style Sheet specification.

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