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XML as middleware may simplify inter-object communication

By Jeff Walsh
InfoWorld Electric

Posted at 4:46 AM PT, Mar 28, 1998
The Extensible Markup Language (XML) protocol may ease the pain of the distributed computing war on the Internet by emerging as an independent middleware standard.

Microsoft is expected to announce next month plans to use XML as a link for communication between the Component Object Model (COM) and CORBA.

"XML will become important across a broad range of protocols, including COM and CORBA," said Adam Denning, group program manager for XML technologies at Microsoft. "You could definitely use XML as a way of bridging protocols."

Sources close to the company said that is exactly what Microsoft plans to do. However, Microsoft officials declined to provide details.

Other companies are also moving in that direction. DataChannel next week will follow a similar strategy, delivering a Java-based tool that passes COM Document Type Definitions (DTDs) written in XML across the Web using HTTP, essentially enabling Java-capable systems to talk to Windows boxes.

David Pool, DataChannel chief executive officer, said HTTP and XML provide a proven, scalable architecture for Web-based distributed computing.

"This is a logical extension to all computing platforms, including Windows. We just did it in Java," Pool said.

DataChannel's WebBroker technology uses a Java servlet as an object request broker combined with an XML parser to format the request into a COM DTD. The XML-based method calls and method returns are both transported using HTTP, and a Java applet on the client converts and processes the request.

For example, a company that wants to run applications via the Web can simply extend its HTTP Web server with WebBroker and not have to open firewalls to Distributed COM or the Internet Inter-ORB Protocol.

DataChannel this week said it plans to submit its DTD schema to the World Wide Web Consortium as a standard way to handle distributed computing across XML.

Pool said the combination of XML and HTTP is a more robust way to achieve cross-platform computing than the method Java offers.

Developers and end-users praised the move to a standards-based approach.

One user said this unifying component software object model will not get rid of COM and CORBA, but merely change the way the technologies are positioned within a corporate infrastructure.

"We're going to have both architectures, but as long as we can keep them on the server, that's half the battle. This is profound stuff," said Brian Smith, a consultant at Shell Services International, in Houston.

DataChannel Inc., in Bellevue, Wash., can be reached at http://xml.datachannel.com. Microsoft Corp., in Redmond, Wash., can be reached at http://www.microsoft.com.