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Spec to animate Web pages

The new Internet specification could pave the way for Web pages that rival client-server systems for user-friendliness and interactivity.

A new Internet specification, winding its way though a standards body, could pave the way for Web pages that rival good old client-server systems for user-friendliness and interactivity, panelists at an Internet World panel said this week.

The Document Object Model (DOM) specification is an attempt to make text-based Web pages easier to design and manipulate using Java and other development tools, said Tim Bray, a widely recognized authority on publishing technologies, and a member of the World Wide Web Consortium's working group on Extensible Markup Language (XML).

The goal of DOM is to untangle the rat's nest of competing scripting tools, component models, and other technologies currently used to spiff up Web pages. Under DOM, developers would have a common interface to JavaScript, VBScript, Java and ActiveX components, and to technologies like Cascading Style Sheets.

DOM is a platform- and language-neutral interface that will allow programs and scripts to dynamically access and update the content, structure, and style of documents. DOM-enabled document can also be processed locally, and results of that processing can be incorporated back into the presented page, according to the W3C.

DOM may also help iron out incompatibilities between implementations of Dynamic HTML. Both Microsoft and Netscape Communciations have their own proprietary document object models. If they adopt DOM after it's blessed by the W3C, developers will have a much easier way to build applications that work on both companies' browsers.

The spec, proposed by the W3C, is now in an initial draft form that defines how to use it with HTML- or XML-based Web pages.

Together with XML, a budding standard for Web page manipulation, DOM is intended to allow Web pages to be addressed programmatically. Right now, most Web pages are limited in the amount of interactivity they can provide, mostly because of HTML's limitations.

Developers do have options, such as adding plug-ins and Java and ActiveX components. But that comes at a price--mostly in terms of added development complexity and possible incompatibilities.

For instance, a Web page might contain a list of information. Currently, with standard HTML, that list would be static, or only able to be reordered or alphabetized using Java or ActiveX components, for instance. Using DOM, the list could be manipulated locally by an end user.

"DOM turns the Web from FTP with pictures into a real application delivery platform," Bray said. "It gives you an API so that when a document has been downloaded into a browser, it can be modified and redisplayed [without additional trips to the Web server]," he said.

The bottom line is that DOM can allow much more to happen in locally hosted Web pages without further trips across the network to the Web server. That will pave the way for Web applications that more closely resemble the client-server systems that business users are used to, Bray said.