Want to know the next important innovation for the Internet? Listen to the insiders. Leading companies -- including Microsoft and Netscape -- are working furiously behind the scenes on something called Extensible Markup Language (XML).
You might think of XML as a more versatile big brother to HTML, for want of a better definition. HTML is a fixed format that must be changed by agreement and committee. XML is made to be extended. You simply describe the extension within XML and it becomes available to everyone.
In a recent submission to the World Wide Web Consortium, Netscape proposed combining XML with Meta Content Framework (MCF), which is an exciting method for improving how Web sites "describe themselves" to the rest of the world. Putting MCF under the same umbrella would make XML even more important. Together, these two technologies offer important benefits to Webmasters and Web users:
Customization without danger. No more worry about "proprietary extensions." One possible result: Intranets and extranets with specific tags designed for specific industries.
Structure as well as data. As the Seybold Report on Internet Publishing puts it, sites will "have the ability to provide Yahoo-like categorization." One possible result: We'll finally be able to find what we need, on our intranets and on the Internet at large.
Better programmability. XML will make it easier to build distributed applications. One possible result: Future software developers may create Internet applications by embedding programming within XML, rather than making do with today's hodge-podge of HTML, Java, scripting, Perl, CGI, ActiveX and so on.
With potential benefits like those described above, it's no wonder XML is top of mind at both browser companies, even though it is still only in the working draft stage at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Netscape has hired MCF innovator Ramanathan Guha and Tim Bray, co-editor of the XML specification.
Microsoft is working on XML projects too. In fact, Microsoft's Channel Definition Format is based on XML. So is the Open Financial Exchange proposal it is developing with Intuit, CheckFree and others. And Internet Explorer 4.0 is likely to ship with some level of XML support.
Industry insiders are starting to buzz about XML's possibilities. Guha recently called me to predict that, once it is supported by tool vendors and browser makers, XML will be with us for the next four to seven years. It is robust enough and (here's that word again) extensible enough to last for a while. And DataChannel's David Poole (of SpryNet and Internet-in-a-Box fame) rang me up to predict that XML would pass HTML in 1999. He's totally psyched about the new products and services he can offer thanks to XML.
I've used the sidebar to link you to several insider sources. See for yourself why those in the know believe in XML. To discuss XML with other users, jump over to my Jesse's Berst Alerts forum. Or click the Talk Back link at the bottom of this page to send me a message directly.
Want to get a head start on the Web's next generation? A leg up on the competition? Then watch what the insiders are betting on. Right now, many of the industry's smartest technologists are putting money on XML.