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Web consortium developing HTML standards, style sheets

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) last week reached agreement with market leaders to establish standards for the HyperText Markup Language (HTML) necessary to prepare information for Web pages.

The W3C will establish interoperability standards for HTML features such as style sheets, tables, multimedia objects, forms, scripting, high quality printing and improved access for the visually impaired. The W3C is operated by the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science and the National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (INRIA) in France.

In a subsequent development, W3C members have agreed to develop a common way of integrating style sheets into the Web's hypertext documents. Currently, content providers do not have the control they have in print media over color, text indentation, positioning and other aspects of style. A style sheet language offers a powerful and manageable way for authors, artists and typographers to create the visual effects they want.

On the HTML initiative, the W3C has brought together experts from IBM, Microsoft, Netscape Communications Corp., Novell, Spyglass, and SoftQuad for joint work on these activities.

The technical team forming the W3C's HTML editorial review board (HTML-ERB) expects to define new versions of HTML in the next few months. Draft documents describing work in progress are available from the Consortium's Web site at .

The original HTML specification was written by Tim Berners-Lee, now director of W3C, while he was at CERN in Switzerland. Innovations from NCSA and other contributors were reviewed under the auspices of the Internet Engineering Task Force, and published as the HTML 2.0 specification, RFC 1866, edited by Dan Connolly, now at W3C. Design work on HTML draws from sources such as the HTML+ and HTML 3.0 drafts by Dave Raggett of Hewlett-Packard Laboratories, and extensions proposed by W3C member companies.

Dr. Raggett, now a visiting scientist at W3C, is the lead architect of W3C's HTML activity. He works closely with member organizations and recognized experts in development, testing and refinement of HTML.

On the style sheet agreement, participating members include: Adobe Systems Inc., America Online, Compuserve, Eastman Kodak, Grif S.A., Hewlett-Packard, IBM Corp., Matra Hachette, Microsoft Corp., NCSA, Netscape Communications Corp., Oracle Corp., O'Reilly & Associates, Inc., Reed-Elsevier, SoftQuad and Spyglass, Inc. The style sheet efforts will be based on Hakon Lie's Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) initiative at INRIA Sophia Antipolis, to be further refined by a group of experts within the W3C.

Style sheets will improve the printing of Web documents. Paper has different properties from a computer screen and the differences can be accounted for in a style sheet. "Web authors should be confident that their documents will look as good-or better-on paper as they do on computer screens," said George Lynch, imaging program manager of Hewlett-Packard.

"We can put our company style into a single style sheet," said Dale Dougherty of Songline Studios, an affiliate of O'Reilly & Associates. "If the company later changes the style of its presentation, we only need to make changes in one place."

The W3C was created to develop common standards for the evolution of the World Wide Web. It is an industry consortium of 120 organizations run by MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science and INRIA.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 13, 1996.

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