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Information Week
February 16, 1998, Issue: 669
Section: Top Of The Week

XML Becomes A Standard; Vendors Ready Products -- Language likely to boost E-commerce, ease Web searches

Gregory Dalton

The extensible markup language was approved as a standard last week by the World Wide Web Consortium-and already a number of vendors plan to unveil products that use the language, which could add muscle and definition to the Web.

XML is a metalanguage that provides information about data. It shares a common heritage with HTML but is much more powerful and allows data to be better structured and exchanged more easily. XML is expected to grease the wheels of electronic commerce, make it easier to share information on an intranet, and permit more-sophisticated Web searches.

"I'm very happy about XML's approval," says Dan Schutzer, director of external standards at Citibank, which plans to use the language in a bill presentment and payment system it is developing. XML, he says, "fits beautifully into that."

A Word Of Caution

But analysts caution that vendors, industry groups, and standards bodies must do a lot of work before XML's promise becomes reality. A key step, for example, would be a standard for extensible style sheets, which control the presentation of data with XML programming tags.

Products supporting XML will be on display next week at the Health Information Management Systems Society meeting in Orlando, Fla. Sequoia Software Corp. will unveil an XML transaction server that lets different applications share data. Datex-Engstrom, a $240 million medical equipment maker in Helsinki, Finland, is testing Sequoia's server in a line of anesthesia monitoring equipment that lets patient data be consolidated on a hospital intranet. Sequoia's XML technology is also the basis for a government-funded pilot by Johns Hopkins Medical Systems of a national patient index.

Marquette Medical Systems in Milwaukee will demonstrate a Web-enabled version of its cardiovascular monitoring system that uses XML tags so data from various departments can be posted and consolidated on a hospital intranet. The software is to be released next quarter.

Bill Finkelstein, chief scientist at Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco, says XML will "enable us to provide a better interface to the customer's client" by eliminating some manual importing of data into a browser. That's because XML will allow the manipulation of data inside a browser; HTML lets users only view data. Microsoft, a big supporter of XML, included an XML parser in Internet Explorer 4.0. Netscape Communications plans to support XML in Navigator 5.0 this year.

The Open Financial Exchange, a data format for personal finance backed by Microsoft and several leading banks, is being modified to support XML. CommerceNet, a Palo Alto, Calif., consortium of technology vendors and users, is exploring ways that XML might boost E-commerce, such as helping aggregate product catalogs from various sources. For example, FedCenter, a Web site that consolidates product data from IT vendors, plans to start using XML soon.

Copyright (c) 1998 CMP Media Inc.