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W3C mulls HTML-TIME

The standards body acknowledges a submission that would let multimedia presentations on the Web interact with HTML elements.

Microsoft, Macromedia, and Compaq are saying it's about TIME.

HTML-TIME, that is. Acknowledged yesterday by the World Wide Web Consortium as a cosubmission by the three companies, HTML-TIME (Hypertext Markup Language-timed interactive multimedia extensions) would let multimedia presentations on the Web interact with HTML elements.

The W3C recently gave its recommendation--the mark of approval in the standards body's process--to a related specification called SMIL (pronounced "smile"), or Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language. SMIL lets Web developers synch up images, text, and sound, specifying when multimedia elements will show up on their pages. For instance, a developer could write a SMIL document for a page on which text appears, followed by a series of images and accompanied by music or spoken word.

The trouble with SMIL that the HTML-TIME submission proposes to fix is that SMIL elements operate in their own environment. HTML-TIME, if recommended by the W3C, would take the synchronization features of SMIL and allow Web authors to integrate them into HTML documents.

With a browser that supported HTML-TIME, for instance, an author could run a video and specify that concurrent with a certain frame of the video, specific HTML text would appear on the page. That frame would be marked by an XML (extensible markup language) tag. XML is a metalanguage, or language for defining industry- or technology-specific tags and mark-up languages.

HTML-TIME also would let Web developers specify how long elements in basic HTML pages should remain on a page, or be replaced by other elements--for instance, in a succession of images.

"The concepts of SMIL are great, but the approach is wrong," said Steve Sklepowich, product manager for platform marketing at Microsoft. "We're trying to pull the multimedia presentation into HTML, to pull it into the browser."

If approved by the W3C, HTML-TIME would become part of a new version of an HTML recommendation.

Will HTML-TIME wipe SMIL off the face of the Web?

"SMIL presentations can play in their own area," said Sklepowich. "It's not an either-or thing."