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Debate of titans falls flat

What was being billed as a mano-a-mano debate between Microsoft and Netscape at the Seybold trade show turns into innocuous commercials for the two companies.

SAN FRANCISCO - What was being billed as a mano-a-mano debate between Microsoft and Netscape Communications officials at the Seybold trade show today ended up being innocuous commercials for the two companies.

Marc Andreessen, senior vice president of technology at Netscape, and Brad Chase, vice president of the Internet platform and tools division of Microsoft, avoided squaring off against each other in their keynote speeches today. The two never appeared on stage at the same time, and instead politely plugged their own separate Internet technologies.

Some audience members had hoped a debate might spark a new detente between Netscape and Microsoft on Internet standards such as HTML, ActiveX, and JavaScript so that support for the technologies might be more compatible in the two rival Web browsers.

"We can't implement all of the fancy stuff (in Internet Explorer) because it doesn't work on Netscape," said said Nils Huhta, a senior consultant with Datadesign Scandinavia, a Swedish Internet developer. "They both leave us somewhere in the middle. We can't work without standards."

In his speech, Chase defended Microsoft on the issue, emphasizing that the Redmond, Washington, company submits all of its Internet technologies to standards bodies or implements existing standards, such as cascading style sheets, a new HTML design format.

"You'll hear a lot to the contrary, but it's just not true," Chase said. "We're the first ones to adopt the World Wide Web Consortium standard for style sheets."

Likewise, Andreessen's speech emphasized Netscape's policy of turning its technology innovations over to other vendors through organizations such as the W3C and the Internet Engineering Task Force. "When we innovate we contribute it into a standards body," Andreessen said.

Chase said Microsoft is committed to creating new versions of Internet Explorer on Macintosh and Unix. However, he stopped short of committing Microsoft to developing a Mac version of Internet Explorer 4.0, the next major release of the browser, which will blend more thoroughly with the Windows 95 and NT operating systems.

"Our commitment to the Mac version of Internet Explorer is steadfast," said Microsoft's Chase, who today demonstrated a beta version of Internet Explorer 3.0 for the Macintosh.

But one Mac user who commended Internet Explorer expressed concern over Microsoft's long-term support.

"We like the interface of Internet Explorer better," said Jeffrey Fown, a Macintosh and Scitex technician with Phototype Color Imaging, a digital imaging company in Columbus, Ohio. "It's slicker, just like Microsoft. But part of what scares us (about Internet Explorer) is that we're Macintosh users."

Early in his speech, Chase asked the audience to indicate whether they were Mac or Windows users by raising their hands. Most indicated that they were Mac users.