Browser standards group stings MS

Microsoft has been attacked by an independent activist group over the lack of standards compliance in version 5.5 of its Web browser, writes Danny...

Microsoft has been attacked by an independent activist group over the lack of standards compliance in version 5.5 of its Web browser, writes Danny Bradbury.

It seems that the company, already smarting from the recent ruling in the Department of Justice court case concerning predatory behaviour, can do no right in the browser market at present.

The row kicked off on 10 April, when pressure group the Web Standards Project (WaSP) issued a statement denouncing Microsoft for failing to comply with the ratified World-Wide Web Consortium in the latest version of the Windows browser. Things were made even more puzzling by the apparent greater compliance of the Macintosh version of the browser, which the group had praised less than a week before.

Jeffrey Zeldman, group leader at WaSP, specifically accused Microsoft of working to support standards that were still in the draft phase while omitting complete support for already established standards.

In particular, the company had not supported level one of the document object model (Dom), and had incorrectly implemented parts of the cascading style sheet (CSS1)specification. Microsoft's version of CSS1 failed to implement the fonts size keyword feature properly, so text appeared the wrong size, Zeldman said. Microsoft had also implemented HTML 4.0 inadequately, he argued.

"Unlike earlier versions of HTML, 4.0 has accessibility features so that blind people and other disabled people can use Web pages - but they can't use them if it is not implemented," he said.

"Partial implementations are sometimes worse than the full thing," he continued, adding that Microsoft was concentrating on functionality such as coloured scroll bars without perfecting the basics first.

"It's like building a patio without putting your roof on."

No one from Microsoft was available for comment, although the company issued a statement claiming it had the most standards-compliant browser currently shipping. Zeldman admitted this is technically true.

Netscape Navigator 4.0 was a "disaster" from a technical point of view, he said, but pointed out that Netscape 6 promises to be completely compliant with WaSP's baseline standards requirement.

In a further statement, Zeldman added that it was hard not to view Microsoft's alleged lack of compliance as the kind of behaviour that the Department of Justice had criticised it for in the first place. "Microsoft's dominance means that if it doesn't comply with standards, it will fragment the Internet," he warned.

  • In a separate development, Microsoft scored another point in its battle against Sun Microsystems over Java. The US District Court rejected Sun's claim that it did not have to supply Microsoft with Java upgrades compatible with Microsoft software.

    What's in Netscape 6?

    Netscape announced the availability of Netscape 6 Preview Release 1 on the Web on 5 April. It includes the following features:

  • 5.5 Mbyte download (half the size of Navigator 4.08)

  • Support for standards including XML, HTML 4.0, CSS1, Dom Level 0 and 1, and Javascript 1.5

  • Versions for Windows Macintosh and Linux

  • Search field in the toolbar

  • "My sidebar" function - a customised online companion to keep track of important online information

  • Password manager, to track login names and passwords for different sites

  • Cookie manager, to view records of every cookie placed on a system and remove unwanted cookies

  • Themes to customise browser appearance (fully live in preview release 2)

  • Full Java 2 standard edition support

  • AutoTranslate - a feature to translate foreign Web sites

  • Net2Phone - an Internet phone system

  • Read more on Operating systems software