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W3C center of standards debates

Tensions rise in the world of Net standards as Microsoft, Netscape, and other leaders part company on key Web development technologies.

Tensions are rising in the world of Internet standards as the leading players part company on key Web development technologies.

The World Wide Web Consortium yesterday acknowledged the submission by Netscape Communications of a proposal for separating Web page "actions" from style and content. The acknowledgment of that proposal comes a month after Microsoft introduced so-called behaviors, a similar technology, with its developer preview of the Internet Explorer 5.0 browser.

Netscape's proposed action sheets and Microsoft's behaviors attempt to do the same thing, which is to let Web developers code movement on a Web page separately and let single scripts apply to multiple pages. Web page movement involves the way elements respond when a user clicks or hovers over them with the mouse.

The way it is now, Web authors must code each movement with its own individual script, which results in bulky pages.

"Action sheets allow you to have very clean separation between dynamic actions and the other elements of a page," said Eric Byunn, group product manager for Netscape's Communicator Internet software suite. "These actions are currently embedded in huge pages of JavaScripts, which is a messier way to go about things."

Action sheets, should the W3C decide to recommend them, will join a number of other technologies that fall under the umbrella term "Dynamic HTML." DHTML includes HTML, cascading style sheets (which separate stylistic elements from content in much the same way Action Sheets would separate out movement), JavaScript, and the Document Object Model (DOM).

Netscape's Byunn criticized Microsoft's behavior feature because it blends movement commands with style sheets, rather than separating them entirely. But he expressed confidence that both companies' technologies would be the subject of industry-wide debate.

"We've submitted action sheets to the W3C," Byunn said, emphasizing that the submission was not a reaction to Microsoft's behavior technology. "It's a discussion we'd like to have with other vendors, including Microsoft, within the context of a standards body."

Another bone of contention in the realm of Internet standards is Microsoft's decision not to support the W3C's recommendation known as Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language, or SMIL (pronounced "smile").

SMIL, a specification that helps synch up images, text, and sound on the Web, has divided industry players since its recommendation last month. Microsoft and others have said they will not use SMIL, after changes they suggested within the W3C working group were not implemented in the final version.