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Vendors to standardize JavaScript

Netscape, Microsoft, and more than a dozen other vendors start a process that will result in a standardized version of the JavaScript language and help eliminate annoying JavaScript errors.

Netscape Communications (NSCP), Microsoft (MSFT), and more than a dozen other vendors this week started a process that will result in a standardized version of the JavaScript language and help eliminate annoying JavaScript errors.

Netscape hosted a meeting in Mountain View, California, this week between software companies and ECMA, a Switzerland-based standards organization, to decide how JavaScript will become a Net standard.

Attendees proposed to create a single Internet scripting language, tentatively called ECMA Script, that is intended to eliminate the differences between multiple versions of the JavaScript language from Netscape, Microsoft, and Borland International.

Netscape introduced JavaScript in its Navigator 2.0 browser and it has become a major point of contention between Microsoft and Netscape. Although Netscape pledged to make JavaScript an open Internet standard in December 1995, Microsoft has accused the company of keeping the all-purpose scripting language proprietary so that it would only work properly with Netscape's products.

As a result, Microsoft says it was forced to create its own version of JavaScript, dubbed JScript, in order to outfit Internet Explorer with scripting capabilities comparable to Navigator's. But the two versions are not identical and Explorer users sometimes run into frustrating errors when they visit sites engineered for Navigator.

Although Microsoft has been the most vocal critic of Netscape, other vendors have also complained that they never received JavaScript source code from Netscape for their products.

"We've been promised it," said Bob Zurek, vice president of research and technology at Powersoft. "We wrote our own JavaScript interpreter. We just couldn't wait any longer. But what are you going to do? Netscape's message has been open, open, open."

At this week's meeting, Netscape hoped to deflect criticism that it is being hypocritical about its "open" message by helping ECMA to establish a committee that will come up with a common JavaScript specification. The committee will be chaired by a representative of Sun Microsystems and cochaired by employees from Netscape and Microsoft. Borland engineers will edit the specification, according to Andrea Cook, a Netscape spokeswoman.

"The specification is for a generic Internet scripting language," Cook said. "What we're shooting for here is something that is independent of any company."

Analysts said the effort could be critical for the growth of an Internet scripting standard.

"Over time, [incompatibilities] would become a real sore point," said Clay Ryder, a senior industry analyst with Zona Research. "If there were multiple Visual Basics, there wouldn't be the ubiquity of apps there are today."

According to one vendor that sent a representative to this week's meetings, Netscape has taken a good first step toward making JavaScript a standard, but the company still needs to demonstrate its willingness to accept input from other vendors.

"Netscape would like to call their version of JavaScript the standard before ECMA determines what is compliant with the standard," said Tim Krauskopf, chief technical officer at Spyglass. "You are not compliant until the compliance criteria is established. You have to start the process and finish it. We have to make sure they finish it."

Also in attendance at this week's meeting was AAC Group, Apple Computer, Borland International, GTW Associates, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Mainsoft, NIST, Nombas, Pithecanthropus, Silicon Graphics, and Unisys.

Representatives of two Net standards groups, World Wide Web Consortium and the Internet Engineering Task Force, also attended.