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Netscape looks to Apple technology

Netscape is increasingly putting its weight behind an Apple-developed technology that could ultimately provide a single interface for getting at most data.

SAN JOSE, California--Netscape Communications (NSCP) is increasingly putting its weight behind a technology that could ultimately provide a unified graphical interface to data on hard disks and the Internet.

That's just one of many applications for the Meta Content Format (MCF), a technology originally developed by Apple Computer but for which Netscape is gradually becoming the key advocate. Netscape has already hired away one of the chief architects behind MCF from Apple, Ramanathan Guha, and earlier this month the company submitted the technology to the World Wide Web Consortium, the arbiter of Web standards.

Netscape is seeking official approval from a standards body for MCF because it wants to build on top of the technology. MCF is a language for representing relationships between information on a Web site, in a database, or data within other applications, and it has hundreds of possible applications.

Today, one Netscape executive said that the company is considering using MCF in a forthcoming Netscape technology, known as the hypertree, that will display files and resources locally on a user's hard disk and on a network.

The hypertree will provide many of the same functions as the Windows 95/NT Explorer or the Macintosh Finder, except that Netscape will make it available on a variety of operating systems. The hypertree could be a breakthrough for corporations that want to standardize on a single graphical user interface for all of their computers, though it may be difficult for Netscape to wean users off the familiar desktops of Windows 95 or the Mac OS.

"We're certainly looking at some applications of MCF, including applications like the hypertree," Richard Schell, a senior vice president at Netscape, said in an interview today.

MCF could also be used for other applications that make it easier for users to sift through large repositories of data. For example, Apple Computer has created an MCF application called HotSauce that lets users fly through a 3D rendition of a Web site in which Web pages are represented as icons floating in space.

Last January, Netscape said it would integrate MCF into a future version of its Netcaster push technology, then code-named Constellation. However, the technology did not end up in the first version of Netcaster now in beta testing.

Microsoft has also shown some interest in MCF by acquiring NetCarta, a software company that developed Web site management tools based on MCF.

An official MCF standard could help avoid another squabble between Netscape and Microsoft over incompatible versions of MCF. Currently, the companies are proposing incompatible versions of Dynamic HTML, a technology for jazzing up the display of Web pages, though elements of both are being considered by the W3C.

Netscape has asked the W3C to consider MCF as an extension of the Extensible Markup Language (XML), an existing, more generalized Net standard.

The W3C has posted information about the submission on its Web site, and Netscape has posted information about MCF on its site.

"We think it's an important, useful addition to something that's already in the mill at the W3C," Netscape's Schell added.