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W3C preps markup-language standards despite Netscape's snub

By Lynda Radosevich
InfoWorld Electric

Posted at 6:58 AM PT, Feb 28, 1997
A new Web standard is brewing that could help users better manage mountains of Web documents -- but the lack of support by market leader Netscape could dampen the standards-making process.

Members of a World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) committee are in the process of writing specifications for Extensible Markup Language (XML), a new version of HTML that provides methods for defining Web-based content in a more granular manner than is possible today.

The committee will present XML to the Web Consortium at its April 7 meeting in Santa Clara, Calif., and a new standard could be approved by late June or early July, said Marion Elledge, vice president of information technology for the Graphic Communications Association, a trade group that promoted Standard Generalized Markup Language, the father of HTML, and now supports XML.

The drive behind XML is that HTML tags offer limited capability to define data. XML is a methodology that will allow Web publishers to create new tags in a standardized manner. The tags would allow content to be searched by document structure or content fields, as well as by text strings, as is done today.

For instance, an automobile manufacturer could use XML to define tags for automobile parts so that content developed for a Web-based catalog could be extracted and then reused later to create an owner's manual, Elledge explained.

Other supporters of XML are Digital, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, JavaSoft, Microsoft, Novell, Spyglass, and Sun. But notably missing is an endorsement from Netscape, which stated that it believes the extensions are not needed.

One expert said Netscape's holdout highlights a classic standard's effort dilemma: the struggle to find common ground among vendors vs. the market leader's desire to assert its influence by developing its own additions.

"Netscape has been trying to drive the market through proprietary extensions for some time," said Clay Ryder, an analyst at Zona Research, a Mountain View, Calif.-based company that tracks Internet trends.

However, the Netscape extensions have helped drive innovation so a standards-based approach isn't necessarily the only right way to go, Ryder added.

The Graphic Communications Association, based in Alexandria, Va., can be reached at (703) 519-8160 or http://www.gca.org/.