In an effort to boost the Extensible Markup Language's role in transforming browsers into sophisticated front-end clients, Microsoft plans soon to propose an Extensible Markup Language (XML) style-sheet language to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
The move, if successful, would enable developers to create the kinds of browser-based database forms that many are considering building as Java applications and help foster the development of vendor-neutral data formats.
"It's a big win for the users because neutral data is where people want to be in the long run," says Mark Walter, editor of the Seybold Report on Internet Publishing, in Media, Pennsylvania.
XML is attractive to Microsoft - which wants to increase the appeal of its Internet Explorer 4.0 browser and slow down the adoption of Java - and to developers who believe Java is not yet mature enough for building the client side of business applications.
"You could still use a Java applet to display XML data, but you wouldn't have to," Walter says.
A W3C policy prohibits members from talking about a submission. But a Microsoft official says an XML style-sheet language is necessary because XML, which lets users define their own tags, requires more data-centric display capability than does HTML, which is more document centric.
"A style-sheet language has to be able to handle data not coming with an order attached to it," says Tom Johnston, product manager of platforms marketing at Microsoft.
As in any style-sheet language, the goal of Microsoft's XML version will be to separate the display structure and formatting from the content itself, which is key to providing a neutral client for displaying data.
Microsoft's proposal won't be the first. Bitstream two weeks ago proposed a Template Style Language for controlling the appearance of XML-tagged data on a Web page, says Paul Trevithick, vice president of marketing at Bitstream, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In addition, groups within the W3C are working on extending existing style sheets for HTML and Standard Generalized Markup Language. But having Microsoft's muscle involved can only help speed up the development of an XML style sheet language and XML in general.
"If Microsoft does make a submission to W3C, we will be excited about any progress that happens," says Eric Byunn, senior product manager for Netscape Communicator, in Mountain View, California.