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Netscape, On Second Thought, Warms to XML Spec

By Liora Alschuler

Saying that so far Netscape sees no technical barriers to implementation of a draft standard for the eXtensible Markup Language (XML), the browser giant's program manager confirmed that it is now examining the draft standard with interest.

This is a complete reversal of the company's position two weeks ago, which was essentially "Not now, not ever." ["XML Could Sidestep HTML Split," March 24, page 28.] The XML standard is being advanced by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Carl Cargill, Netscape's standards program manager, said the decision to implement the new data type and to what degree it might be implemented will be based on the company's view of XML's value to its installed base of customers. No time frame was given for any degree of implementation.

With a tip of the hat to the W3C Editorial Review Board, which he characterized as having fought a "quiet little war," Cargill said a key to the changeover is the realization that XML can live alongside HTML and is not intended as a replacement.

"We are an HTML company," Cargill said, "but XML does not pose a threat to HTML. It will complement it." Reacting to the changeover, Tim Bray of Textuality, co-editor of the XML specification, said: "Everyone agrees that the Web needs to be a lot smarter. Netscape has been one of the leaders in making this happen through their introduction of JavaScript and Java to the browser giant. But a smarter Web also needs smarter data. That's XML." Like HTML, XML is neutral with respect to vendor, application, and platform. Unlike HTML, content providers can write their own tags tailored to their own requirements without loss of compatibility, interoperability, or longevity. The long-term promise of XML is that it will speed up the Web and deliver precisely targeted content through greater use of client-side processing; better indexing, search, and retrieval; richer link types; and more complex structures.

A new draft XML specification, which now includes XML-Link, will be presented at this week's WWW6 Conference by Jon Bosak of Sun Microsystems, chair of the Editorial Review Board.

The board expects to complete the specification, including a standard for application of styles, within the next six months. Microsoft, which is active on the review board, has gone further than Netscape in its public support of the initiative, although neither browser vendor has indicated precisely how or when it will field XML products. A first crop of XML products will be shown at WWW6, including parsers, editors, browsers, style engines, converters, processors, and servers from established Web companies, SGML vendors, research facilities, and individuals.

An Internet publishing specialist at a large high-tech firm, on hearing that Netscape is taking a serious look at the new standard, said, "We are heaving a sigh of relief. It's obvious that XML is going to be used for the large-scale integration of data into the Web.

We were looking at a situation where Microsoft was going to walk away with it. As Netscape partners, that would have put us in a very uncomfortable position." Microsoft is basing two emerging data types--its Channel Definition Format for push services and the Open Financial Exchange for banking and brokerage services--on XML.

Reprinted from Web Week, Volume 3, Issue 9, April 7, 1997 © Mecklermedia Corp. All rights reserved. Keywords: browsers standards Date: 19970407