Browser makers face developers' complaints

A Netscape product manager and a Microsoft director of standards activities square off against Web developers fed up with browsers that do not comply with standards.

Paul Festa Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Paul Festa
covers browser development and Web standards.
Paul Festa
3 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--Netscape and Microsoft last night threw themselves to the lions of Web standards advocacy.

In a panel discussion here cosponsored by the Web Standards Project and the San Francisco Chapter of the Association of Internet Professionals, Netscape Communications product manager for NGLayout Angus Davis and Microsoft director of standards activities Mark Ryland squared off against a good-humored but frequently antagonistic audience and panel of Web developers fed up with browsers that do not comply with standards.

CNET Radio provided live coverage of the event.

Armed with clicking devices used to convey skepticism, the audience often nearly drowned out the browser makers' responses and pitches. In one display of anti-Microsoft sentiment, Ryland was greeted by a deafening chorus of clicks before he had spoken a single word.

After that reception, warmth toward Microsoft did not increase.

"We assert that we have pretty complete HTML support...about 90 percent support for HTML 4.0," Ryland told the audience, referring to the World Wide Web Consortium standard for Hypertext Markup Language.

WSP cofounder and Project Cool chief technology officer Glenn Davis subsequently interrupted Ryland to ask rhetorically, "How many people here want 94 percent compliance in their condoms?"

The developers cheered Davis's point.

Indeed, while the major browser makers' appearance on the panel was its main attraction, the evening came off mostly as a pep rally for developers who have recently organized to fight for better standards compliance.

"Get involved!" said Dan Shafer, editorial director of Builder.com, a Web site of News.com publisher CNET: The Computer Network. "Stand up, be counted, be heard. Take the Web back from the people who have been making life difficult for us, whether intentionally or unintentionally."

The WSP launched in August, and only a few months later was widely credited with successfully pressuring Netscape to include its next-generation layout engine in Communicator 5.0. That victory was also cheered last night.

Both Ryland and Angus Davis claimed--to scattered clicks of skepticism--that their companies welcomed developer involvement in bettering standards compliance. Davis directed developers to mozilla.org, Netscape's independent organization that is shepherding the Communicator open source development effort, and urged them to download the current version of the browser, test it, and submit noncompliance reports.

Ryland said that starting tomorrow developers could submit similar reports for IE standards bugs to "wasp@microsoft.com." IE 5.0 is currently in beta.

But frustration with standards noncompliance--which may force Web developers to code several different versions of a Web site based on what browser and what platform the client is using--may inspire the newly organized community of developers to look beyond the two major browsers. Both panel and audience members discussed the possibility of embracing a third browser, such as the one produced by Opera Software, if Microsoft and Netscape don't improve standards compliance.

Shafer mentioned the possibility of bringing the Opera browser into an open source model such as the one followed by mozilla.org.

Netscape's Davis fared better with the rowdy crowd than his Microsoft counterpart, but earned his share of clattery skepticism.

Davis at one point owned up to Netscape's spotty Web standards record, while claiming that the company had taken the lead in other Internet standards, such as those for email and directories.

"This room cares about HTML and CSS, but you don't care so much about LDAP or IMAP, where Netscape has taken a leadership position," Davis said. "In CSS, I'm not going to BS you. There's a lot of work to do."

For Communicator 5.0, Davis pledged 100 percent compliance with HTML 4.0, CSS 1.0, Extensible Markup Language 1.0, the Resource Definition Format, and the Document Object Model.

Amid browser makers promises to do better, developers were unyielding in their demands. A frequent refrain was that standards compliance had to be 100 percent.

"I want to build one Web site and have it work everywhere," said the WSP's Glenn Davis. "That's something we could do in 1994, and not today. That's not progress."