A group of high-profile web designers are forming a coalition to protest the differing standards between Microsoft's and Netscape's browsers.
"We're in danger of getting to the point where the Web is made of fragments, with one browser supporting one fragment and the other browser supporting another, and with no middle ground," says Glenn Davis, spokesman for the Web Standards Project.
WSP members hope that grassroots developer pressure will influence Microsoft and Netscape as the companies work on their fifth-generation browsers. In the past, both companies have added their own, non-standard technologies to their browsers without waiting for approval from the Web standards overseer, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Sometimes that approval never materialises, as with Netscape's HTML "layer tag," or Microsoft's Windows-only Active X.
However, Davis says that between the companies' 4.0 browsers, Microsoft Internet Explorer is closer to full support of most Web standards, while Netscape's lack of support for the cascading style sheets standard, which allows designers to display and rearrange information dynamically within the browser, is a major concern. Netscape was not immediately available for comment
The debate over diverging browser standards has in part been sparked by Microsoft's decision to merge its browser into the dominant Windows operating system. By developing for Internet Explorer, Web designers know that millions of Windows users will be assured of accessing their sites. But Netscape's Navigator remains the more popular browser by a slim margin, and developers are hesitant to throw their lot into only one camp, thus inflating the cost of Web development.
Davis, who runs Web-design firm Project Cool (www.projectcool.com), estimates it costs 25% more to develop a cutting-edge site that can be fully accessed by both browsers.
Microsoft product manager Mike Nichols said the company is committed to leading support in all industry standards and technologies and will continue to do so with IE 5.0.
Microsoft has released a developer-only beta of IE 5.0, while Netscape is counting on its decision to free its browser source code to spur innovation for Navigator 5.0.
The Web Standards Project is also concerned with future browsers that will run on non-PC devices, such as palmtops and Web phones. "Lack of standards support is going to hurt that development," said Davis.
Other members of the Web Standards Project include Martin Diekhoff of the Getty Information Institute (www.gii.getty.edu), Ann Navarro of Webgeek Communications (www.webgeek.com), Roger Black of Interactive Bureau (www.iab.com), and John Shiple of Squishy Designs (www.squishy.com). The group's Web site (www.webstandards.org) will be live on Monday.