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"Happy Birthday, XML!"

Jon Bosak's "Happy Birthday, XML!" Message for February 10, 2003

The five years since XML was released have seen XML become the lingua franca of the Web. But this universal embrace has not always been accompanied by a clear understanding of what XML can and cannot do.

What XML cannot do is to magically solve the problem of data interoperability. XML just provides a framework within which interested groups can work out agreements about the vocabularies and data structures to be used in a given domain. The widespread adoption of XML has created a wonderful infrastructure of standardized tools and products to support the creation and implementation of such agreements, but deep down, the job of semantic definition requires the same grinding committee work that standards groups have been engaged in for more than a century.

On the other hand, there is relatively little awareness of one big thing that XML can do: It can play an essential role in freeing its users from the big-vendor hegemony that has ruled the computer industry for the last 50 years. The ability of user communities to develop their own data formats is a powerful force for freedom from vendor control.

Consider electronic commerce. Bridging the gap between rich and poor economies is a global imperative. Businesses of all sizes must be brought into the EDI framework currently occupied by the Fortune 500. Doing this economically will require royalty-free data standardization and inexpensive software as well as vendor support. A combination of XML-based standards and technologies is now converging to accomplish this goal. The ebXML standards provide a free, coherent, easily implementable infrastructure for trade that maps to existing EDI systems; UBL provides standard business messages; Gnome, Linux and Java provide a free, vendor-neutral computing platform; open-source products such as ebxmlrr and OpenOffice provide free registries and office productivity tools; style sheets and open-source page formatters allow the large-scale output of printed business documents; and commercial products like the Sun ONE Secure Trading Agent are coming online to provide vendor support for trading partner agreements and secure messaging over the free Internet. The convergence of these elements will enable the entry into electronic commerce of most of the world's businesses. I'm proud that Sun Microsystems continues to play a leading role in this movement -- a role that it adopted when it organized and led the creation of XML itself.

*Used with permission

Prepared by Robin Cover for The XML Cover Pages archive. See related commentary and references in "Happy Birthday XML."

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