XML: the new ASCII of the Web

XML: the new ASCII of the Web

By Paul Montgomery

One of the pioneers behind the development of the eXtensible Markup Language says the technology will become as pervasive as the ASCII character set.

Tim Bray, co-editor of the original 1.0 specification of XML for the World Wide Web Consortium, and also co-founder of Canadian knowledge management vendor Open Text, also warned that users would have to be the ones to stop XML being tied into proprietary technologies, rather than remaining an Internet standard.

"XML is essentially going to end up being the ASCII of the Web. No one says they have an ASCII-enabled business, but everybody does it," he said.

Mr Bray said that in conjunction with another fast-moving trend, the open source movement, a lot of XML tools and applications were being made available as freeware, but in commercial implementations a degree of customisation was still necessary.

"XML doesn't have business rules built into it. You still have to do the messy job of writing code," said Mr Bray. "So far, people are cooking their own as they are building heterogeneous systems."

The promise of XML could fulfil the hopes that had previously been vested in the Document Management Alliance, which was backed by FileNET, Eastman Software, Documentum and Xerox. Mr Bray said that while DMA was an older, much more fully developed technology, it was only an application programming interface, whereas XML was a document format.

"I hope XML does better than DMA!" he quipped. "XML is less of a threat to vendors. If DMA was implemented correctly, it would be easy to switch out one application and install another. XML doesn't do that."

While the development of the XML specification has been relatively free of industry conflict, the implementation of it has been less unified. Proprietary XML-based technologies from huge developers like IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft have taken the technology in many different directions. The possibility that industry supply chains will balkanise along technological lines with, for example, Microsoft's BizTalk on one side and HP's e-speak on the other, remains a distinct possibility. Mr Bray said that it would greatly simplify implementation of XML if a party would unite the XML vocabularies to describe workflows, but that users had the ultimate power to decide whether XML would truly become a cross-industry standard.

"It is not possible for the W3C to stand ground on its integrity for all of the individual projects it is involved in," said Mr Bray. "Users have to vote for it in their RFPs [requests for proposals], and we are starting to see that happen."

Mr Bray was brought to Australia by Software AG for a series of seminars in February.

Business Solution: