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   BW ebiz--5/28/99--Clicks & Misses:

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  • From: Tyler Baker <tyler@infinet.com>
  • To: xml-dev@ic.ac.uk
  • Date: Fri, 04 Jun 1999 22:51:15 -0400

I thought this might be of interest to many on this list who are active
participants with XML.Org even though they all probably are already
aware of this article.  Nevertheless, just in case here it is.


Title: BW ebiz--5/28/99--Clicks & Misses:
BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE:   Business Week ebiz
Financial TimesLucent Internet Solutions

CLICKS & MISSES By Neil Gross May 28, 1999

Building a New Web Language -- or a Tower of Cyber Babel
XML.ORG is a site under construction, one that may find its goal -- consensus on a possible HTML successor -- elusive

You can sometimes glimpse the future on the Web -- if you learn to read between blank spaces, empty links, and signs that say "under construction." Indeed, some sites are alluring mainly for what they promise down the road. XML.ORG is one of those sites.

XML.ORG was built by an industry standards group called OASIS to be a central clearinghouse for ideas, innovations, and news about XML. The letters stand for "extensible markup language," a powerful new technology that could replace HTML as the Web's lingua franca. XML.ORG went online on May 25, and has already garnered a fair quotient of industry buzz.

"ONE STANDARDS BODY." But there are also some poignant realities: This Web site was born amidst widespread concern that XML is starting to fragment into multiple standards. A host of small XML software companies are striking out in different directions. And just one day before XML.ORG went live, Microsoft launched a site called BizTalk.Org with a mission that's nearly identical to XML.ORG's. Three days later, Microsoft took a step toward unification by offering to become a sponsor of OASIS, or the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards.

Indeed, Microsoft is now considering letting OASIS and other standards bodies manage BizTalk.Org. "We have no interest in fracturing XML," says James Utzschneider, director of industry frameworks and BizTalk at Microsoft. "There is one standards body as far as we are concerned...the W3C [World Wide Web Consortium], and when they announce in the fall the standards for XML, we will adopt them and make any changes needed to BizTalk."


XML's magic tags could enable search engines to spot information with staggering speed and accuracy

The technology at issue here is not new. But the software has huge implications for online industries. XML and HTML were both refined from a common language for marking up documents, with roots stretching back to the 1960s. Like its ubiquitous predecessor, XML can define how pages appear in your browser. But it does much more than that. While HTML tells the browser what a page should look like, XML defines what each element actually means. HTML says that text on a page should be capitalized, colored, or in bold. Computers that host or request that page have no clue what the text refers to. Indeed they have no way to distinguish between a fragment of poetry and an entry in a financial spreadsheet, or between a painting of a tree and a picture of a car. XML, on the other hand, marks each item with special tags so that computers can tell the difference.

The benefits of such tagging are obvious: If XML were widely adopted, search engines could spot desired information with staggering speed and accuracy. Web sites could present text-only views whenever users logged on with tiny handheld computers of Web phones. People managing extranets say XML's magic tags could help them customize data for their partners and provide tiered access. And XML is more flexible than HTML: Its designers intentionally made it easy to create tags that describe new types of products or specifications, or indeed, to create whole new markup languages.


If XML.ORG wants to broaden its appeal, it should consider forging links to key news sites that cover the industry

Even so, for each industry or family of companies that wants to use XML, there has to be some consensus about what the tags describe. XML.ORG hopes to embody that consensus. Click to "Endorsements" on the home page, and you'll find an impressive list of hotlinked supporters and sympathizers, from Charles Goldfarb -- pioneer of the world's first markup languages -- to tech giants IBM, Oracle, and Sun Microsystems. Soon, Microsoft may appear on the same list. There are also a handful of well-chosen technical XML white papers under "resources." And an area called IBM xCentral describes itself as the world's first search engine for XML resources, including XML documents, newsgroup articles, and news.

But XML.ORG has a long way to go, just like the budding industry it mirrors. As of May 26, a section called "links" in the Resources area featured only one external site. Another area labeled "Case Studies" remained under construction. Ditto the critical repositories of XML tags and protocols, known in XML-speak as "schemas." Even the IBM-run xCentral search engine came up short. I typed in "Microsoft," on a lark and turned up a scad of documents from 1997 and 1998, some of which have since been moved to other servers. That seemed odd, considering that the same day, news sites ZDNET and CNET were both buzzing over a fresh XML announcement from Microsoft CEO Bill Gates. If XML.ORG wants to broaden its appeal, it should consider forging links to these or other news sites that cover the industry.

How XML.ORG fares, however, probably depends on where Bill Gates decides to take BizTalk.Org. He has just made a major commitment to weave XML into all the company's future business offerings. Microsoft also has forged significant alliances with independent XML players such as Commerce One and Ariba -- both major forces in E-business software. Its BizTalk site could evolve into a powerful XML nexus that might compete head-on with XML.ORG and further splinter this important new market.

But many are hoping that Microsoft will choose another path. "Microsoft should join with the rest of the XML universe by letting OASIS host and manage BizTalk.Org," says Forrester Research analyst Joshua Walker -- in effect, merging it with XML.ORG. "This," says Walker, "would make Microsoft a credible commerce partner and make XML a technology cornerstone of the Internet economy." Helping to sponsor OASIS is an important first step. The whole industry is now waiting to see if there's a second.

Gross is a senior writer at Business Week, covering science and technology

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