Under the covers of the newly released Internet Explorer 5.0 beta is a new Microsoft technology called HTML Components (HTC), which is aimed at making the development of complex Web sites easier.
Big Green also hopes that HTC will become the basis of a W3C standard and on Tuesday, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) acknowledged Microsoft?s submission of the technology.
HTC enables developers to create Web applications by using HTML documents as application building blocks, enabling them to combine pre-built components with their own to build complex Web applications more quickly.
According to Dave Wascha, Microsoft?s product manager for platform marketing, Web designers can implement HTC in a similar way to DHTML (Dynamic HTML), but it is easier to use.
He said that HTC was based on two Web standards - HTML, which is used as basic format for Web pages, and ECMAscript, a scripting language that was recently approved by the W3C.
Because HTC enables developers to build components that can be added to Web pages as building blocks, Microsoft hopes to encourage the creation of a market for pre-built HTML Components, similar to that for pre-built class libraries developed in C++ or Java.
It is already already offering a collection of its own re-usable components on its Web site at www.microsoft.com/sitebuilder.
The flip side is that these new applications can only be accessed using version 5.0 of Microsoft?s Internet Explorer (IE) 5, which is now in beta. Older IE releases do not support HTC and nor does Netscape Communicator.
Netscape has developed a similar technology dubbed Action Sheets, which it has also submitted to the W3C.
Netscape?s Action Sheets work like style sheets by attaching ?behaviours? (or scripts) to various elements in a structured document.
As a result, these scripts are separated from the HTML page itself, which means that the same scripts can be used in multiple HTML pages. The code can also be rewritten without having to touch the content of any of the HTML pages.
HTC goes beyond Action Sheets, however, because it can create a full-blown component model for adding scripts.
While Wascha conceded that an eventual W3C standard will probably contain elements from both technologies, he argued that this should not stop developers from using HTC now because the company intends to adhere to standards in future.
?The biggest complaint from developers was that [DHTML] was too hard. HTC is the answer to that,? he claimed.
But HTC and Action Sheets face a similar fate to their DHTML predecessor. Both vendors developed incompatible implentations of the standard and it remains little used as a result.
George Olsen, project leader with the Web Standards Project, a lobby group of Web developers, warned: ?If [Microsoft] is implementing this before the standards are in place, developers are not going to use it because it won?t work in other browsers.?
But he added: ?We?re glad that they?ve chosen to make a proposal to the W3C.?
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