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Microsoft push embraces Netcaster

Saying it wants to avert a standards skirmish, Microsoft extends its push channels standard to include Netscape's Netcaster software.

Saying it wants to avert a standards skirmish, Microsoft (MSFT) has decided to extend its push technology so that it works with Netscape Communications' (NSCP) Netcaster software.

Today, Microsoft said it has created a set of extensions for the channel definition format (CDF), a technology designed to streamline the delivery of content or, in push parlance, "channels." The software giant has submitted the extensions to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the Internet standards body which has been overseeing the technology's development into an official standard.

Since Microsoft introduced CDF in March--in conjunction with other companies like PointCast--Netscape has steadfastly refused to support the technology, describing it as unnecessary. According to Microsoft, CDF will benefit users and publishers of push technology alike.

With it, Web sites can schedule how often a push technology client, such as Microsoft's own Internet Explorer 4.0, should check in for new information, thereby reducing unnecessary traffic on the site.

CDF also allows publishers to group information into categories, such as baseball or food, making it easier for users to download only the information they want to receive, Microsoft says. CDF is based on an existing, more generalized W3C standard known as Extensible Markup Language (XML). Netscape has said that users and publishers can get all of these benefits with Netcaster by using the JavaScript scripting language.

In extending CDF to support Netcaster, Microsoft has suggested that it is taking the moral high ground by trying to head off a standards battle that could confuse developers. But the company could also be concerned that Netscape's lack of support for CDF could impede its acceptance. Not so, according to Microsoft.

"There's this industry concern over a diverging standard," said Dave Fester, a group product manager at Microsoft. "Now, Microsoft and Netscape can move beyond competing on standards and focus on implementation."

Fester said that it has enhanced CDF so that Netcaster can benefit from how the technology groups content into categories. However, the extensions won't let Netcaster take advantage of the scheduling features of CDF. Fester said that he wasn't sure whether the extensions would let other push technologies, such as Marimba's Castanet, exploit CDF.

Netscape said that it didn't have strong feelings about Microsoft's CDF changes and that is has no immediate plans to support the technology natively in Netcaster.

"I don't see any harm in that," said Michael Po, director of client product marketing at Netscape. "There's nobody beating our doors down from the content side to do [CDF]. If this becomes an issue with our content partners, then we'll support it."

Netscape and Microsoft have been fierce competitors in the arena for ordinary Web browsers, but recently their rivalry has branched out into push technology. Push enables end users to receive information automatically delivered to their computers, rather than having to go to Web sites manually to retrieve data.

Netscape will ship Netcaster within the next 30 to 45 days as separate component of Communicator, Po said. Microsoft has delivered a preliminary beta version of IE 4.0, and plans to ship a final version by the end of the summer.