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Microsoft standards: Windows to W3C

Microsoft may be known for establishing de facto technology standards, but it is increasingly positioning itself as a leading supporter of officially sanctioned Net technologies.

Traditionally, Microsoft's (MSFT) forte has been establishing de facto technology standards like Windows, but increasingly the company is positioning itself as a leading supporter of officially sanctioned Net technologies.

Today, the company said that it will support the work of a Net privacy project, the World Wide Web Consortium's Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3), in its forthcoming Internet Explorer 4.0 browser, Site Server, and Web sites such as MSNBC and Expedia. In June, Microsoft endorsed P3 and a technology it is currently considering, called the open profiling standard (OPS).

By integrating OPS into the next beta version of Explorer 4.0, due out in mid-July, Microsoft could be the first vendor to implement the technology before even Netscape Communications or Firefly Networks, two of the companies that authored the OPS specification. Firefly has not set a date for supporting OPS; a Netscape spokeswoman today said only that the company would integrate it into its products by the end of the year.

Microsoft competitors, such as Netscape and Sun, often characterize the software giant as a purveyor of proprietary technologies that it alone ultimately controls, as opposed to standard technologies that are controlled through an independent organization like the W3C or the Internet Engineering Task Force. But Microsoft has quickly moved to the fore of companies working with those standards bodies on new technologies.

Perhaps more importantly, though, Microsoft says it is determined to be the first to implement or actually deliver versions of new technologies, even if they haven't already been officially recognized. "We have a stated goal of being first to implement every significant Internet standard," said Thomas Reardon, a program manager at Microsoft and one of the company's chief liaisons to standards bodies.

Being first to implement Net standards could give Microsoft a technical advantage over its competitors, but the PR benefits for the company are also sizable.

"Microsoft wants to be the good Net standards citizen because they were accused of being proprietary and closed for so long," said Clay Ryder, an analyst with market research firm Zona Research. "For Netscape, defining standards is very important because they are supposed to be the Internet brand."

This week, Microsoft has been aggressively promoting its support for Net standards. Yesterday, the company posted two beta versions of products on its Web site--Internet Information Server 4.0 and Script Debugger--that are the first to be based on ECMA Script, a standard Internet scripting language largely based on Netscape's JavaScript technology. Last week, ECMA, an international standards body, officially approved ECMA Script as an Internet standard last week at a meeting in the United Kingdom.

In recent months, Microsoft has also touted its work with the W3C to establish channel definition format (CDF) and Dynamic HTML as standards. In early June, Microsoft and Netscape achieved a rare concordance on OPS.

Later this week, the Open Group will announce that Hewlett-Packard, Siemens, Digital Equipment, and Microsoft have agreed to jointly develop versions of Microsoft's ActiveX and component object model (COM) technologies for various Unix operating systems, according to Cornelius Willis, director of Microsoft platform marketing.

Willis said beta versions of the first implementations of COM on Unix should be available by fall.