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Netscape preaches standards

The company posts an open letter on the importance of open standards, but the real point is to take another swipe at Microsoft.

Netscape Communications (NSCP) today went public to defend its reputation as a supporter of open standards, a move that some saw as a veiled snipe at arch-rival Microsoft.

The company posted a manifesto of sorts called the "Open Standards Guarantees." The open letter from senior vice president of marketing Mike Homer promises that Netscape will champion all open standards.

"Because all Netscape products have been designed from the ground up to work on open networks, interoperability and support for standards are part of our technological DNA," the letter pronounces.

Specifically, the company promised to adopt all the major standards recommended by the Internet Engineering Task Force and "other appropriate, vendor-neutral" standards bodies.

"Our customers and some members of press were asking where is Netscape is on standards," Netscape's Martin Haeberli said. "The letter is really reaffirming in a proactive way our commitment to standards."

He said competitors--whom he wouldn't name--have unjustly questioned Netscape's stance on standards to undermine its credibility.

The subtext of the document, however, is that Netscape doesn't need Microsoft (MSFT) to tell it what a standard is. "We will also assume a leadership role in proposing new standards where there is real customer demand and where such standards do not yet exist," Homer wrote.

Netscape is upset that Microsoft is promoting its Channel Definition Format protocol as a new standard for "push" technologies.

Last week, Microsoft even added a set of extensions to the protocol specifically to support Netscape's Netcaster push technology. Microsoft said the extensions are intended to avoid a standards skirmish.

But Netscape seems to feel that its rival is starting one.

"We find this new format unnecessary," Homer said in the letter published today. It adds that Netscape will follow the lead of the World Wide Web Consortium on this matter, but the company will clearly lobby against the adoption of CDF as a standard.

The Netscape manifesto surprised Microsoft.

"On the one hand, they say they're pursuing standards, but they're implementing and pushing proprietary technology with their development community," Microsoft product manager David Fester said. "Microsoft has pledged 100 percent standards support for some time. The truth is in the pudding and the products."

For example, Fester contends that Netcaster uses "layer tags" that the W3C has rejected as a standard.

While Netscape's manifesto portrayed the standards issue as black and white, Haeberli acknowledges that standards evolve as companies create so-called "proprietary" extensions to existing standards.

Even when Netscape and Microsoft agree, they disagree.

In the letter, Netscape also takes credit for the Open Profiling Standard (OPS), a privacy initiative announced two weeks ago by Netscape, Firefly, and VeriSign, and endorsed by more than 60 other companies. The letter states: "And because [OPS] gained consensus early in the product development process, even Microsoft has subsequently agreed to support the OPS standards proposal."

But Fester said today after announcing support for OPS that Redmond has been working with the World Wide Web Consortium on a similar standard for six months. Because Netscape wouldn't let Microsoft see its draft until after it had been submitted to the W3C, Microsoft was made to look like a johnny-come-lately.