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Multimedia standard revised with Microsoft in mind

A standards body releases a second draft version of a key Web multimedia standard, and the revision has Microsoft's fingerprints all over it.

A standards body released a second draft version of a key Web multimedia standard yesterday, and the revision has Microsoft's fingerprints all over it.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) released a working draft of Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language, also known as "SMIL Boston." SMIL (pronounced "smile") lets Web authors synch up sound, text, and other multimedia elements using simple tags rather than programming code.

The W3C recommended SMIL version 1.0 a year ago June. But Microsoft, along with Macromedia and Compaq Computer, objected to the SMIL 1.0 recommendation, and submitted an alternate proposal a few months later known as HTML+TIME (Hypertext Markup Language-timed interactive multimedia extensions).

The software giant contended that SMIL 1.0 was limited by lack of integration with the Web, while HTML+TIME proposed to let multimedia presentations on the Web interact with HTML elements.

SMIL Boston incorporates HTML+TIME's Web interactivity, and has brought Microsoft back on board with SMIL.

Spurring the development and adoption of SMIL is the desire to make the Web look more like television. Backers have touted SMIL as a crucial technology for making it easier to present audio and video content on the Web, especially in low-bandwidth environments.

"With SMIL, we made a mistake by not paying enough attention to that working group," said Mark Ryland, director of standards activities at Microsoft.

"From our perspective, something bad had happened technically. We worked hard to integrate multimedia features with HTML. The latest draft moves in the direction of integration with standard W3C protocols for presentation," he said.

In response to Microsoft's endorsement, the W3C was all smiles.

"In this revision we have one additional supporter in the form of Microsoft," said W3C spokesperson Janet Daly.

Daly stressed that SMIL Boston--a code name that will yield to "SMIL 2.0"--also took into account other users' suggestions and improved on SMIL 1.0 with a modular structure that lets content developers reuse individual multimedia creations, or modules.

SMIL Boston provides timing and synchronization modules for use markup languages based on Extensible Markup Language (XML). Other improvements on SMIL 1.0 include animation capabilities and integration with television broadcasts.

Under W3C rules, all members of a working group can contribute to standards as they evolve. But with its increasing grip on the browser market, Microsoft's blessing has become vital to a standard's widespread adoption.

HTML+TIME remains a submission at the W3C. Submissions may evolve into drafts, but with SMIL Boston incorporating its key ideas, HTML+TIME is likely to remain a submission.

The W3C established a mailing list for comments on SMIL's development at ""