Opera Software, the company behind the eponymous browser has released a free online curriculum to encourage web developers to create standards-based websites.

The company said it launched the effort to help set the pace of web standards education and training in schools, colleges and businesses.

Under the project, Opera has created an online Web Standards Curriculum, which provides detailed information and lessons about web design and development using standards-based coding. The online curriculum so far includes 23 articles, with more than 30 more to come, according to Thomas Ford, communications manager for the Norwegian company.

"This is essentially a curriculum for teaching standards-based web design," Ford said. Many existing materials on the subject are out-of-date or incomplete, he said, so Chris Mills, developer relations manager at Opera, created the company's own version of a training course. "We wanted something that was easy to understand. Chris saw a lack of good standards-based design materials."

By using web browsers that are standards-based, users aren't locked into a browser from any specific vendor and content is rendered properly online, Ford said. "It's really about opening up the web."

Anyone can use the class materials for free as long as they don't try to resell them, he said.

Browsers like Opera, Mozilla Firefox and Apple's Safari are standards-based and therefore render standards-based web pages properly; Microsoft IE7 isn't standards-based, he said. "Internet Explorer has a ways to go," he said, noting that the upcoming IE8 apparently will be standards-based by default.

The articles are being written by a range of notable Web developers and experts, including Christian Heilmann and Mark Norman "Norm" Francis of Yahoo, Peter-Paul Koch of quirksmode.org, Jonathan Lane, Linda Goin, Paul Haine, Roger Johansson of 456bereastreet, and Jen Hanen, according to Opera. "We hope the community gets behind this and they see the value in it and they help us promote it."

In an interview, Mills said he created the course to make it easier for web developers to get the skills they need for standards-based web design. There are other such sites available, he said, including W3schools.com, but "none of them really cover the whole story of what you need."

Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group in San Jose, Calif., said the project is timely, but noted that Opera isn't one of the major players in the Web browser marketplace. "I think it's a good idea, but for a small player, and Opera's a small player, it's hard to drive a change like this," Enderle said. "Opera's advantage has always been that they keep the product simple and it's fast."

The move by Microsoft to make the upcoming IE8 browser standards-based "should help" drive the effort toward standardisation, he said.