HTML Alternative Standard Gets Backers
(03/18/97; 9:00 a.m. EST)
By John Gartner,
Far from the noise of Internet World, a group of academians and Internet bigwigs last week endorsed XML, a data formatting standard that serves an alternative to HTML.
On March 11 at the Graphic Communications Association's XML conference in San Diego, a slew of companies including Adobe, SoftQuad, Sun Microsystems, Novell and Hewlett-Packard joined educational institutions such as the NCSA, Oxford, Boston and Illinois Universities in endorsing XML as an enabling Web technology.
Microsoft had formally submitted a proposal for the Extensible Markup Language (XML) to the World Wide Web Consortium (WC3) on March 9, which seeks to open the Web to a plethora of custom-formatted information.
XML is a flexible alternative to HTML that provides standard formatting for publishers easily to introduce richer content. In addition to XML, the Dynamic HTML and CDF standard recently proposed could result in a radically different-looking Web by year's end.
XML provides standard tagging for publishers to describe and implement structured data, a feature not available in HTML. Using tags for Document Type Definitions (DTD), stylesheets and links to applications called XML processors, Web developers have new flexibility for leveraging associated data.
Users can search databases, mailing lists, discussion groups or multiple Web pages for common properties. These properties, or "meta" data, can aggregate information based on author, subject matter or date of creation.
Thomas Reardon, program manager in Microsoft's Internet Client Division, said he thinks that though dynamic HTML is en vogue today, XML is the key missing technology between the Web and CD-ROMs.
"XML is solving the problem of structure on the Web, whether it's within a page or sets of pages," Reardon said. "How can I take TechWeb home with me? A sitemap XML definition will let me define TechWeb as a collection and make it portable."
XML content will carry the .xml extension and will be viewable from Web browsers, search engines and new XML formatters, or "parsers." Two Java-based XML viewers are available, and Microsoft will begin to incorporate XML into Internet Explorer 4.0 by supporting the CDF format, the first application of XML.
Sources close to Internet tools vendor SoftQuad indicated that XML support will be added to their authoring products this fall.
XML refines and simplifies the more-than-10-year-old SGML standard for storing data that is accessed via HTML (and lets you view this very page). XML reduces the formatting options listed in SGML thought to be too numerous and complex for widespread use, and updates the syntax to be more straightforward. XML will also support the HTML standards for hyperlinking documents such as HREFs.
Although the formal proposal was by authored by Microsoft, the original XML draft was developed in late 1996 by a WC3 working group chaired by Jon Bosak, who works for frequent Microsoft-combatant, Sun Microsystems, in Mountain View, Calif.
Conspicuously missing from the roster of names last week was Netscape Communications. Although his Mountain View company has not participated in the XML working committee thus far, Eckart Walther, a Netscape product manager, said Netscape's "involvement or non-involvement should not be interpreted as agreement or disagreement with the standard."
He said, "We haven't been focusing on [XML] because we believe Dynamic HTML is of more value to consumers right now."
Dynamic HTML is distinct from XML in that it is backward- compatible with HTML and focuses on the visual application of data within a page, not defining how data is related and can be applied. Netscape has not announced plans to add XML capability to the Communicator browser,though Walther said, "It wouldn't take long to implement."
Microsoft appears to be leading the push for Web standards. So far, in 1997, all three proposals submitted to the WC3 (XML, CDF and dynamic HTML) are all related to dynamic content, and all have the Microsoft signature.
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