August 10, 1998 2:50 PM PDT

The high cost of browser problems

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Web developers fed up with browser incompatibility are teaming up to do something about it.

Today marked the official launch of the Web Standards Project, an advocacy group dedicated to raising awareness about the costs of browsers that don't hew closely to World Wide Web Consortium standards.

High up on the list of the new group's targets are market-leading browser makers Netscape Communications and Microsoft.

"Up to this point, we've heard both Microsoft and Netscape say that they're doing what the customer is asking for," said WSP founding member Glenn Davis. "But those customers are high-dollar companies building huge intranets. We're creating a voice for the people who are really building the Web in order to build a Web that everyone can use."

But large corporations stand to gain from the WSP's work as well, Davis said. The group launched with the estimate that workarounds designed to negotiate browser incompatibilities cost both large and small developers about 25 percent extra.

Browser incompatibility stems from the variations in timing and implementation when browser makers adopt new W3C recommendations. Makers often add features before the W3C has completed its lengthy recommendations process; but the group's main beef is with browser makers that don't fully implement completed recommendations.

Microsoft and Netscape greeted their new gadfly with a cautious welcome.

"We applaud efforts like the WSP's to encourage industry support for the leading Internet standards," said Mark Ryland, Microsoft's director of standards activities, in a statement provided by the WSP.

Netscape said that it was in contact with the new group and that their goals were basically consistent.

"We are absolutely committed to implementing the W3C standards as quickly as we can," said Eric Byunn, Netscape's group product manager for Communicator, the Web software suite that includes the Navigator browser. "They're pushing for rapid deployment of the standards in our products, and they would like to see that happen instantaneously. But they understand that it takes time to build and test products and bring them to market."

The WSP has had some harsh words for Netscape, saying Microsoft had done a better job particularly in its implementation of the first W3C recommendation for cascading style sheets. CSS lets Web developers separate style from content in designing a Web page.

"We implemented CSS in Navigator 4.0," Byunn said. "Both Navigator and IE have some bugs in their implementations and we're working hard to fix ours in the next version."

Browser maker Opera Software announced its support for the group today, according to the WSP.

The WSP steering committee includes Tim Bray, a consultant and founding member of the W3C's XML working group; Martin Diekhoff, a developer with the Getty Information Institute; Ann Navarro, founder of WebGeek Communications; and George Olsen, design director of 2-Lane Media.

 

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