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Standard pitched for linking e-comm apps, directories

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A proposed standard that could help unite corporate directories and e-commerce applications is being greeted with cautious optimism by users and analysts.

Bowstreet last week led a group submitting the Directory Services Markup Language 1.0 (DSML) to three standards clearinghouses, including the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), an international group that focuses on data exchange formats. IBM, Microsoft and three other companies joined with Bowstreet

Observers say moving DSML through the standards process is the right way to go, but warn they will take a wait-and-see approach to the technology, since it is based on XML, an increasingly popular but largely unproven technology.

"DSML has the potential to help solve the problem of interoperable and interchangeable directories, and I will take a good, hard look at it," says one directory manager for a Canadian financial firm who asked to remain anonymous. "But I need to separate the reality from the hype; that's what worries me about XML."

Directories all have proprietary schema, a way to define the objects and attributes they house. With DSML, directories would be able to describe the information they contain in a standard way. Any XML-based application could use DSML to read schema, such as information about end-user access rights that could be important for companies deploying extranet and business-to-business commerce applications.

DSML would reduce the need for developers to build directory-specific interfaces into their applications.

"If you are writing an XML-aware application, that means you will be able to consume directory information, and that is a good thing," says Jamie Lewis, president of The Burton Group, a consultancy in Midvale, Utah. But Lewis cautions that XML may be getting overhyped and that DSML won't magically resolve directory interoperability issues.

Caution appears to be prudent, since DSML has yet to be accepted by a standards body. The specification was submitted last week to OASIS, but the sides are still discussing the submission of a request for a working group charter, according to Laura Walker, executive director of OASIS.

Bowstreet, in hopes of garnering broad support, also submitted the specification to the World Wide Web Consortium, which controls the base XML standard, and BizTalk, a Microsoft-led initiative to develop XML formats.

Bowstreet officials expect it will be up to a year before DSML becomes a recognized standard, but the firm already has included the specification in its Web Automation Factory, a platform for creating, managing and linking customized Web sites for business-to-business commerce. IBM, Microsoft, Novell, Oracle and Sun/Netscape have all said they will include DSML in their directories.

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Other recent articles by Fontana

Tech Update: DSML
More on the proposed markup language. Network World, 11/22/99.

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