Coalition Raps Microsoft on Standards Support

FRAMINGHAM (04/18/2000) - Microsoft Corp. is again drawing fire over the issue of standards support, and this time the target is on Internet Explorer.

A nonprofit group called Web Standards Project (WSP), a coalition of developers and end users, last week said it was "incensed by Microsoft's arrogance" for not fully supporting in Internet Explorer 5.5 a host of Web standards that dictate the development and display of Web pages in a browser.

The group says Microsoft is halfheartedly supporting some World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards and developing some of its own proprietary technology that will eventually lock users into its browser and operating system.

"This is not just about pretty pages," says Jeffrey Zeldman, group leader and a member of the WSP steering committee. "It's about businesses doing business on the Web. Microsoft's plan is to basically fragment the Web."

Microsoft officials say Explorer 5.5 is designed to support enterprise demands for not only standards but also intranet application development, deployment tools and the Web, and that it supports the parts of the W3C standards in highest demand by its customers.

Zeldman's accusations come on the heels of the ruling in the government's antitrust case against Microsoft that found the company illegally attempted to monopolize the Web browser market.

WSP alleges Microsoft broke its promise to support W3C standards in the recently released Explorer 5.5 beta even though Microsoft helped develop those standards. For example, the group said Microsoft's incomplete support for Cascading Style Sheets 1.0 (CSS), which dictates font style and size, and omission of the Document Object Model 1.0 Core, a sort of application programming interface, impedes interoperability and hamstrings developers.

The criticism came the same week Microsoft was tiptoeing around other standards efforts, including the first beta of its XML-based BizTalk Server 2000.

BizTalk is middleware for exchanging XML documents and includes Microsoft-developed technology the company says will be replaced once the W3C formalizes a standard. Additionally, Microsoft last week attempted to appease critics of its implementation of standard Kerberos 5 in Windows 2000 by publicly revealing its proprietary authorization formats.

While standards support is craved by enterprise customers, they seem resigned to incompatibility issues on the Web.

"Microsoft should adhere to standards, but the practical reality is that we have to code our Web pages for every browser," says Charles Haynes, architect for software development at a major financial online site. "That's life on the Internet. If Microsoft doesn't fully implement these W3C specs then we will code around it."

Haynes says he uses code to detect the type of browser making page requests and then serves pages designed for that browser.

"Microsoft's style has been to propose its own approach and if that is not accepted to begrudgingly go along with standards," says Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst with IDC. "Microsoft has yet to succeed in surrounding the Web but this is another attempt."

Ironically, Microsoft's Macintosh version of Explorer, released three weeks ago, fully supports the W3C's CSS 1.0 standard, the first available browser to do so.

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