Designers: IE 5 a lost opportunity

A group of Web developers is calling Microsoft Corp.'s new Internet Explorer 5 browser a lost opportunity to comply with Internet standards.

The Web Standards Project, a group of 7,000 Web site designers, said IE 5 doesn't go far enough in adhering to the design standards the company itself helped develop. "We're hoping to educate the public to get the public as a whole to get Microsoft to do what's right," said B.K. DeLong, a Project steering committee member and Web designer. "If not, we're never going to see the coolest technology or the best Web sites."

Specifically, the group complained that Microsoft doesn't fully support a series of open standards that let developers create more dynamic sites, including Cascading Style Sheets, Document Object Model, Extensible Markup Language (XML), and HTML 4.0. In addition, the group said Microsoft added extensions that make IE incompatible with other browsers.

As a result, the group said, developers may shy away from adding features that depend upon the standards, meaning surfers won't see the most modern Web technology. However, Microsoft said it can't just leave behind users of older browsers or developers who use older standards -- which is what complying with the new standards would mean. "In an ideal world, everyone wants the latest and greatest stuff," Microsoft Windows Product Manager Rob Bennett said. "The reality is the market doesn't work that fast. We have people still doing HTML 2.0, and we have to support that."

The lack of standards among the browser companies is an ongoing problem for Web designers, who often must develop different versions of their site to ensure users of both Navigator and Internet Explorer can view their work. The Web Standards Project estimates that creating the extra versions adds as much as 25 percent to the cost of developing a site.

The group does acknowledge Microsoft is getting better at supporting Web standards, and IE 5 is an improvement upon earlier versions. However, the browser stops short of solving the designer's dilemma. The group praises Netscape Communications Corp.'s efforts to open up its source code to developers, and its promise to comply with all Web standards. But Bennett said it's ironic the project's members are praising Netscape when Microsoft has been involved in standards development.

"They're basing all this on some promises that Netscape has made," he said. "Netscape's been full of promises for years, but they don't have a great tradition of standards."

Netscape plans to release version 5 of its browser later this year.