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More juice for Web pages

Microsoft proposes a standard to the World Wide Web Consortium that could add some adrenaline to Web pages through a souped-up version of HTML.

Microsoft (MSFT) today proposed a standard to the World Wide Web Consortium that could add some adrenaline to Web pages through a souped-up version of HTML.

But officials at Netscape Communications are crying foul, accusing the Redmond, Washington, company of trying to eclipse the standards process and an existing Netscape proposal for the same thing already on the table at the W3C.

The disagreement is the latest round of finger-pointing in a Net standards battle waged with almost religious fervor. In the past, the companies have attempted to portray themselves as faithful disciples of the processes, but both companies have also promoted their fair share of "extensions" to standards such as HTML.

This week's squabble is sparked by proposals from both Netscape and Microsoft for a standard HTML object model, a set of specifications that would let Web designers use Hypertext Markup Language to go beyond static text documents and design dynamic content as well.

Although Java applets and ActiveX controls adds some zing to Web pages, a new, more sophisticated version of HTML could do the same thing in a fraction of the size.

Using HTML objects, a Web page could, for example, dynamically change its entire layout, including fonts, colors, and styles when a user clicks on a radio button. Web pages can do this now, but only by downloading an entirely new page from a server or by activating Java or ActiveX programs.

"This is a way for people to start pursuing an HTML approach to getting a very rich experience. [An HTML object model type] allows you to start having pages that respond instantaneously," said John Roskill, group product manager in Microsoft's Internet platform tools group.

"You clearly can do that with ActiveX today, but that's a fairly heavy solution," Roskill said. "You have a fairly large chunk of code to download."

Microsoft is holding a workshop today with more than 70 vendors to review its HTML object model proposal.

Netscape officials also think an HTML object model standard is a good idea. In fact, company representatives say they submitted their own proposal to the W3C "some time ago." Furthermore, Netscape expressed dismay that Microsoft had publicly announced the submission of its proposal, adding that W3C members are expected to remain quiet about proposed standards until they are finalized.

"Discussion of those proposals is not the agreement we had with the W3C or the Web community," said Daniel Klaussen, a product manager at Netscape. "These proposals should be directed by the W3C. Otherwise, companies have been accused of being extremely manipulative of public opinion."

W3C officials, however, say its rules do not forbid Microsoft from announcing its HTML proposal.

"Microsoft can do what it wants," said Sally Khudairi, public relations manager at the W3C. "That's a personal choice. This is not the first time [the company] has said it work with us."

The W3C has posted a white paper on object-oriented programming for the Web.

In recent weeks, Netscape and Microsoft have both underscored their intentions to be more faithful to the Net standards process and organizations such as the W3C and the Internet Engineering Task Force to help prevent Internet publishers from fragmenting into incompatible products and services. In July, Microsoft publicly repented for adding proprietary extensions to HTML in a posting on its Web site.

But now, the companies are simply fighting over who is being most cooperative.