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The surprising aspect was the extent to which mainstream vendors were voicing their support for XML. Warnock, who said "asset management was a big deal," but failed to spell out any Adobe strategy for addressing it, at least acknowledged that XML was on the "short list of things the FrameMaker group will do." (Lest anyone get their hopes up too high, under questioning Warnock all but dismissed the notion that PDF might one day carry SGML source data.)
Netscape shows RDF support
Warnock was followed by Mike Homer of Netscape, who unveiled Aurora, a forthcoming component of Netscape Communicator. Aurora is a taxonomy navigator driven by RDF -- the Resource Description Framework written in XML syntax. Using metadata, Aurora presents a simple hierarchical tree for navigating your own personal view of networked information. Aurora pulls together information from disparate sources, including local file, personal e-mail, shared projects, databases, calendars and, of course, Web pages. Assuming all these sources have metadata that can be exposed or exported as RDF, Aurora lets the user create views of information by subject, rather than by application. Working documents, e-mail, multimedia and Web pages related to a project can all be viewed in the context of the project, rather than just through the context of the file system or their originating application. The effect is an integrated information viewer, or, more simply, the cohesive "webtop." It is the challenge to the Microsoft desktop for which we've been waiting.
Microsoft counters with IE 4
But Microsoft was not to be outdone so easily. After the lunch break, Microsoft announced XML support in Internet Explorer 4, which is being released today. Jean Paoli, the SGML expert the IE team recruited from Grif, explained that IE 4 has two XML parsers -- one in Java and one in C -- the first steps toward having a browser that can interpret and display XML-tagged documents.
The most sweeping endorsement of XML came from John Gage, the scientific wit from Sun Microsystems. Drawing a parallel to PostScript, which provides an abstract way to describe graphical pages, Gage positioned XML, and its style sheet component, XSL, as nothing less than the future of computing. Noting that the computing industry is obsessed with "aggressive abstraction," trying to make both software and the data it manipulates as neutral and portable as possible, Gage predicted that XML/XSL will be the glue that will integrate EDI, databases and even operating systems. The result, concluded Gage, will be that "the computer [becomes] an extensible, linked document and database," taking us past the original visions of hypertext pioneered by Doug Engelbart and Ted Nelson into a new era in which documents are readily created (rather than prebuilt) views of information pulled from disparate sources.