XML initiatives take shape

The Extensible Markup Language (XML) is rapidly gathering steam as major vendors, including Microsoft, Netscape Communications, and Oracle, prepare to launch strategic XML-related initiatives.

Although it is still being defined, XML is generating excitement because it lets developers create custom tag sets for building cross-platform applications across the Web that are data-neutral yet more structured than what is possible today using straight HTML.

Among the developments, Microsoft will kick off an XML awareness campaign with CEO Bill Gates' keynote speech at the Seybold San Francisco '97 conference, September 29Ð October 3, a company source said.

Microsoft is also expected to announce in that time frame support for XML in Web-oriented tools, such as FrontPage and Visual Interdev.

Building momentum for the campaign, Microsoft, ArborText, and Inso have submitted an XML style-sheet language, Extensible Style Language (ESL), to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). ESL extends Cascading Style Sheets with capabilities such as reordering XML data as it is displayed.

"XML is very strategic to our Internet plans," said Tom Johnston, product manager of platform marketing at Microsoft.

Netscape, another XML proponent, has plans to release a hypertree Java applet that lets users view content described using the Resource Definition Framework (RDF), said Ramanathan Guha, principle engineer at Netscape.

RDF is a W3C data model expressed in XML syntax. It is derived from Netscape's Meta Content Framework and provides the data underpinnings for browser applets, such as sophisticated site maps, push-channel definition, parental controls, and digital signatures, Guha said. Content vendors including AltaVista, ABCNews.com, Knight Ridder, Time, and Yahoo! have said they'll support RDF.

Netscape also is planning to release an XML parser soon, according to one source.

In a longer-term effort, Oracle, Sybase, Microsoft, and push vendor DataChannel are working to devise a database markup language using XML, said John Tigue, senior software architect at DataChannel.

Also, DataChannel is working on Xapi-J, a specification for representing data extracted by XML parsers to Java and JavaScript programs. Xapi-J supports a number of parsers, including Microsoft's XML Parser and the forthcoming offering from Netscape, Tigue said.

All this activity comprises the preliminary work that must be completed before users see workable XML-based products emerge, but it points to something that is likely to be as big or bigger than HTML, observers said.

"XML is amorphous. With the exception of DataChannel, nobody has placed anything on the table that is real. But this is very important for users," said JP Morgenthal, Java computing analyst at NC.Focus. "With HTTP, you have this fantastic distribution mechanism. Now XML gives you the ability to provide structure over the data. That's cool."

Microsoft: www.microsoft.com.

Netscape Communications: home.netscape.com.

DataChannel: www.datachannel.com.

XML comes into its own

High-level tools are emerging that underscore the possibilities for developing Web applications using the Extensible Markup Language (XML).

For example, AgentSoft plans to make available on its Web site a tool that automates the process of collecting data marked in the Channel Definition Format, which was written in XML. An investor who regularly gathers specific data from particular companies' sites could automate the process using the tool, said Bruce Krulwich, AgentSoft's director of advanced technologies.

The tool will be part of LiveAgent Pro 1.0, agent software that records actions as Web macros.

Meanwhile, Allaire plans to release a custom set of tags for its Cold Fusion development environment.

The Custom Tag Gallery includes components for extending Web applications with functionality such as animated graphics or server-side credit card processing.

Although Cold Fusion was developed prior to XML, it provides a good example of an XML-like custom tag language, analysts said.

AgentSoft Ltd: www.agentsoft.com

Allaire: www.allaire.com

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