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A spec to redefine multimedia

Approved by the W3C, the language could redefine how multimedia is cast over the Web and help developers build television Net content.

A new Web development language, approved today by the World Wide Web Consortium, could redefine how multimedia is delivered over the Web and help developers build television and CD-ROM-quality Net content, supporters said.

The consortium, which develops and endorses common Web protocols, released a proposed recommendation for the Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language--or SMIL, pronounced "smile." W3C members, including Microsoft, RealNetworks, Lucent Technologies, and Netscape Communications, now have six weeks to cast votes on whether the specification should officially be recommended for industry adoption.

The SMIL specification is important because it will help to establish a universal language for delivering high-quality video, audio, images, and text over the Web. That's possible today, but only through the use of a proprietary format, such as RealNetworks' RealPlayer or Macromedia's Shockwave.

SMIL may also be valuable as more multimedia content from traditional sources moves to the Web. This week at the National Association of Broadcasters conference in Las Vegas, Microsoft, Intel and other industry giants defined plans for combining TV and PC technologies.

The SMIL specification defines a "platform independent Web format for describing multimedia content," said Jeremy Allaire, cofounder and vice president of technology at Allaire, a Web tool maker planning to support SMIL. "We're talking about the future of multimedia content. It's significant because Real Networks and Microsoft were going down their own paths to define a way to do this."

Allaire and others believe that SMIL will function as a lingua franca for describing multimedia content, much like Structured Query Language is used as a common language for databases. Like SQL, "everyone will add their own extensions [to SMIL], but there will at least be one spec," he said.

SMIL is based on the Extensible Markup Language (XML), an emerging industry method for defining Web data. SMIL uses XML conventions for defining the multimedia elements that compose a presentation and the sequence in which those elements should be displayed. SMIL does not define the file formats that must be used, so the specification is open to virtually any Web multimedia file formats, making it ideal as a vendor-neutral language.

Already, a host of multimedia software companies are pledging support for SMIL. Along with Allaire, which will add SMIL support to its Cold Fusion and HomeSite tools, RealNetworks, NetObjects, Zapa Digital, and Digital Renaissance have also promised to support SMIL in their tools.

Microsoft executives were not immediately available to comment on SMIL and plans for support.