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XML seen untangling the Web
By Paul McNamara
Heartened by a public profession of faith from Bill Gates himself, vendors evangilizing the Extensible Markup Language believe they are nearing the day when XML makes Web-based document searches far more precise and valuable.
An evolving World Wide Web Consortium standard, XML is a subset of the long-established Standard Generalized Markup Language and is designed to give end users and applications easy access to SGML documents via the Web.
The idea is that categories of Web participants, say semiconductor makers, health insurers or car dealers, would agree to define a data model, a specific set of XML document tags. This XML data model would then allow for better Web search results and interaction between applications than is now possible with the finite roster of document tags provided within HTML.
Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer 4.0 offers limited support for XML, while Netscape Communications Corp. is promising to jump on the bandwagon in a future release of Navigator. Sixty vendors, including those two, will gather to demontrate and advance the technology at the SGML/XML '97 conference in Washington, D.C., Dec. 8-11, an event sponsored by the Graphic Communications Association.
"Obviously, XML is catching a lot of interest across the industry," said Don Thieme, vice president of marketing and communications for GCA. "There's a lot of hope that XML will be the extension of SGML that a lot of folks have wanted to provide greater interoperability with HTML and the Web."
At a recent trade conference in San Francisco, Gates helped demonstrate an XML application using Internet Explorer and XML-enabled software from ArborText, Inc., of Ann Arbor, Mich., to access the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition.
"What XML will do is lower the cost of deploying richer, more interactive, more powerful, and ultimately more business-critical applications on the Web," said P.G. Bartlett, vice president of marketing at ArborText. "With Microsoft paving the way, it makes all of us believe that there is really going to be a lot of momentum behind this."
Bartlett also believes that Netscape may have fallen behind the curve, a contention that Netscape dismisses as premature.
"We will be endorsing [XML] in upcoming products," said Eckart Walther, a Netscape product manager. "We think it's a really big deal. ... There is no XML content out there right now, anyway."
Walther said it is important for people to understand what XML can and cannot accomplish.
"If you see XML as a replacement for HTML, that is just not where XML is heading right now," he said. "We see it as a data encapsulation mechanism for openly describing data formats and embedding meta-data directly on Web pages, which you can then gain access to though" an element of XML called Resource Description Format.
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