By endorsing HTML 4.0, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has standardised many of the benefits of Dynamic HTML (DHTML), but the new functionality probably will not enter the general market, where users can take advantage of it, for approximately one year.
The first standard since HTML 3.2, HTML 4.0 was designed during the past year to foster neutrality among browser types -- such as competing browsers from Netscape and Microsoft -- and to make the Web more visually appealing and easily accessible through different interfaces. It also adds many international features.
HTML 4.0 adds support for advanced forms, in-line frames, and enhanced tables, as well as support for objects, scripts, and style sheets, according to representatives at the W3C. Many of the functions were developed by Microsoft for its DHTML and then submitted for consideration by the standards body.
"The style-sheets feature enables the DHTML stuff from Microsoft, so sites can have more depth and move things around for more dynamic page creation," said J.P. Morganthal, president of NC.Focus, a consultancy in Hewlett, N.Y.
The new features in 4.0 will need to be incorporated into browsers, tools, and Web servers before end-users can enjoy their benefits, and that whole process of integration could take a year or more, according to Tim Sloane, an industry analyst at the Aberdeen Group, a consultancy in Boston.
HTML 4.0 also provides the markup scheme required for any language, including multilingual documents. This allows document and Web authors to manage differences in language, text direction, and character encoding schemes, according to W3C officials.
Because table and form text can now be uniformly rendered into Braille or speech, the new HTML version is also more accessible to users with disabilities, according to W3C representatives.
The approval is the second momentous move by the W3C within a month. On Dec. 8, the group gave Extensible Markup Language (XML) a nudge forward by releasing the XML 1.0 specification for review and voting by W3C members. (See "XML gets even closer to the Web," Dec. 15, page 6.)
Accompanying the latest HTML version is a new service, HTML Validator, a free offering that is designed to help the Web community more easily comply with HTML 4.0, according to members of the standards body.
Validator is designed to allow content providers and tool makers to "validate" their Web pages and products againstthe new HTML 4.0 specification. The service is available at http://validator.w3.org/, W3C officials said.
The World Wide Web Consortium, in Cambridge, Mass., is at http://www.w3.org/.