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October 1, 1998


By CBR Staff Writer

The Open Group, which completely dropped the ball when it came to internet standards, is going have a crack at what the W3C appears unable to do by trying to ensure that implementations of HTML standards are compatible. It’s creating a testing and branding program called the Open Browser initiative. The Open Group’s latest project is to create tests for the operation of HTML functions in browser environments and stamp those which pass the mark with its brand. Web site developers are little able to use advanced W3C features such as dynamic HTML and cascading style sheets because Netscape and Microsoft implement them differently. Kathleen Dolan, director of implementation at Silicon Alley web company eCentric Consulting Inc explained that developers can work around the problem by directing web site visitors either visibly or invisibly to pages built specifically for either browser. Or they can pick one environment to standardize on and leave users with other browsers to take their chances. Of course customers want everyone to be able to view their site in the same way and don’t usually want to spend extra time and money creating parallel web sites. So they go for the common denominator: not using advanced features such as these at all. Dolan says it’s a common experience within the web developer community. eCentric recommends clients do not use these features even though they offer the ability to create rich functionality on web sites. Neither Microsoft Corp nor Netscape Communications Corp admitted to knowing about the Open Browser initiative and it proved impossible to raise anyone at The Open Group who could shed more light on the subject. Even if Microsoft and Netscape don’t support the project or submit their browsers to scrutiny, it’s thought Open Group members such as Sun, Compaq, HP, IBM and others would want to test solutions they sell to customers which use these browsers and thereby pressurize the browser suppliers into ensuring interoperability. After all, defining a standard specification for technology and enabling companies to compete upon implementation comes unstuck if those implementations are themselves incompatible. One fly in the ointment is the fact that, due to its politically charged history, The Open Group would not be allowed to publish the results of its testing. But the Open Group has presumably now realized that there are other organizations trying to develop standards for testing web technologies against specifications. The Web Standards Group which encourage the implementation of W3C standards such as cascading style sheet level 1, the document object model and XMLin, browser products could be the vehicle to make the results public. Indeed, the two will next week declare their joint support for these aims.

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