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JavaScript stamped standard

Netscape's JavaScript receives the Internet's equivalent of the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

JavaScript has received the Internet's equivalent of the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

The inventor of JavaScript, Netscape Communications (NSCP), today said that an international standards body, the European Computer Manufacturer's Association (ECMA), has approved the scripting language as an official standard. The arrival at a single standard for the language is significant as it will avert technical snarls that could cause incompatibilities between Web sites and browsers.

ECMA's rubber-stamping of JavaScript is important for Netscape's reputation as a bearer of open standards. Earlier this month, Mike Homer, the company's senior vice president for marketing, posted an "Open Standards Guarantee" in which he claimed that support for standards is part of the Netscape's "technological DNA."

"The cooperation and speed accompanying the acceptance of the ECMAScript standard reflects the importance of open standards and the efficient exchange of information between platforms," Jan van den Beld, secretary general of ECMA, said in a statement. "Open standards remove technical barriers for information distribution and are essential for industry growth."

Introduced in 1996 in the 2.0 version of Netscape's browser, JavaScript allows developers to embed miniature programs, such as a calculator or pop-up window, into Web pages. The technology is not related to Sun Microsystems' Java, but the two languages can be used in concert.

Although JavaScript could be licensed from Netscape for inclusion in other products, JavaScript was controlled by Netscape, leading its rival Microsoft to criticize the company for harboring a proprietary technology.

Microsoft later created its own version of JavaScript, dubbed Jscript, and included the technology in its Internet Explorer 3.0 browser. Microsoft's and Netscape's versions of the language are similar, yet there are still some differences between the languages.

"At a base level they've been compatible, but if you talk to a developer, there are some incompatibilities," said Rick Fleischman, group product manager for tools at Netscape.

The final specification for the language, which will be called ECMA-262 or ECMAScript, should eliminate those incompatibilities. Microsoft, Netscape, Sun, and Borland all contributed to the final specification. Netscape will continue to call its implementation of the language JavaScript.

But according to Microsoft, the next compatibility obstacle for it and Netscape is an API (application programming interface) related to JavaScript known as the document object model. Along with other technologies, JavaScript and the document object model compose Dynamic HTML

"We're happy to see this approved. In terms of creating more interoperability, it's a step forward," said Thomas Reardon, a program manager at Microsoft. "But it's only ten percent of the problem. It's just the language, not the API.

Microsoft said that its forthcoming Internet Explorer 4.0 will conform to the document object model already under review by the World Wide Web Consortium, another Net standards body. Netscape says that it will also support the same technology if it is approved.

"Customers will not let Microsoft and us split on this," said Netscape's Fleischman. "We will both deliver the resulting standard."