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HTML 4.0 public for first time

The World Wide Web Consortium, one of the main arbiters of Net standards, updates the basic publishing language of the Web.

One of the main arbiters of Net standards has updated the basic publishing language of the Web, HTML.

Today, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) released the first public draft of HTML 4.0. Like previous innovations in hypertext markup language, the latest version could improve the look and functions of Web pages once browser vendors like Microsoft and Netscape Communications support it.

That could happen as early as this month. Microsoft said today that it will support HTML 4.0 in a beta version of Internet Explorer 4.0, to be released by the end of this month. Netscape could not be reached for comment.

HTML 4.0 includes several key improvements over the current 3.2 version of the language. A feature called advanced forms allows publishers to display "rich" HTML on any button, build keyboard shortcuts into page controls, and create read-only documents for copyright protections that prevent users from copying data to their hard disks.

Other features include in-line frames, enhanced tables, and support for objects and scripts. HTML 4.0 will also be more friendly to users with disabilities, allowing table and form text to be rendered into braille or speech.