Microsoft Browser To Have Keyword Search

By Chris Oakes

SAN FRANCISCO (Wired) - Microsoft said that the final release of its next-generation Web browser will follow Netscape's lead and introduce a controversial new feature known as keyword searching.

But Web developers, eyeing Wednesday's release of the first public beta of Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.0, said the company is misplacing its priorities.

The developers note that the company has made little headway toward improving the browser's underlying technology and say the program comes up short in support of Web standards.

Microsoft said the new Explorer represents a significant advance in the software. ``We really took a look at where we could build in intelligence throughout the product,'' said Rob Bennett, product manager for Microsoft's Internet client group.

The keyword feature, called AutoSearch, is not included in Wednesday's release. But the final version, due to ship in the first quarter of next year, will support it as part of a larger family of technologies called IntelliSense.

AutoSearch interprets words and phrases entered into the browser's address bar. It then makes a best guess at which site the user is looking for. Entering the word ``Apple,'' for example, will bring up the Web site for Apple Computer.

The feature is similar to the Internet Keyword feature of Netscape's Communicator. Netscape first introduced the function in an early beta version of Navigator 4.5 released on 1 June.

Initially, Netscape's feature automatically matched a keyword to a single Web site, generating controversy among users and webmasters. Critics said the keywords silently changed the behavior of the software. Further, they said sites were inappropriately matched to generic words that don't belong to any single Web site.

In response, Netscape changed the way the browser handled keywords, so that common terms were less likely to be assigned to a given Web site. After the change, a word such as scripting returned a list of several sites related to scripting, instead of just one site.

Bennett said in June that his company rejected features that map URLs one-to-one with keywords. He said keywords could not be implemented in a way that benefits users and is fair to content providers.

But on Wednesday, Bennett said Microsoft found a compromise, which will be finalized in the final version of IE 5. It will respond to a generic keyword entered in the address bar with several options in a split browser Window. In the right half of the window, the program will suggest the closest matches pulled from a search of a Microsoft Network database. Another pane on the left side will show the results of a standard Web search.

``We're not doing one-to-one mappings.... We want to do it in such a way that it's fair to all content providers,'' said Bennett said.

Microsoft says the final version of its browser will also support open standards including the latest specifications for eXtensible Markup Language (XML), eXtensible Stylesheet Language (XSL), HTML, Cascading Stylesheets (CSS), and the Document Object Model (DOM).

But the Web Standards Project, an association of Web developers, on Tuesday released a document outlining how a previous developer-only release of IE 5 fell short in standards support. Specifically, the group cited missing support for CSS 1.0, which centralizes control over the look and behavior of multiple pages across a single Web site.

``Many critical features of CSS 1.0 remain either incorrectly implemented, implemented for only an undocumented selection of eligible HTML element, or entirely neglected in Microsoft's browser,'' read a statement from the group.

Wired Digital, the parent company of Wired News, is actively involved in the Web Standards Project.

Bennett said developers have not told Microsoft they need the features and ``hands down, we have better standards support than any browser. Just like any other feature work, we'll have to prioritize what we'll support.''

Full standards compliance is difficult, he said, and the Explorer development team is restrained by ``limited resources.''

IE 5's beta is available for Windows operating systems, Windows 3.1, and Sun Solaris. Macintosh and Unix platforms are due in the months ahead, Microsoft said.



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