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XML: the lingua franca for B2B 'Net applications

A few years ago, I had to sell clients on the merits of XML. Today, XML has unequivocally become the universal format for structured documents and data on the Web.

Software vendors are slowly embracing XML. IBM was an early adopter and even became an evangelist. Cisco has completely opened its policy management software with XML. Sun intends to include a native XML parser within Java 2 Enterprise Edition and even offers a transformation compiler that converts XML scripts into Java code. XML is synonymous with portable data, as Java is synonymous with portable code: both are essential ingredients to next-generation Web-based applications. Microsoft, with the announcement of .Net, has made a significant commitment to XML.

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Beyond the software industry, the business community has embraced XML as the salvation for business-to-business e-commerce Web sites. On, a registry of XML schemas sponsored by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, there are more than 150 XML schemas in 45 industry categories. These schemas will let different business applications exchange data and documents using a common construct and language.

XML is popular because it is license-free, platform-independent and a well-supported standard. It's also the right technology for the right time. The development of XML began in 1996, almost two years before it became a World Wide Web Consortium standard. XML was plagiarized from Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML), developed and standardized in the 1980s for large document communication; and HTML, developed and standardized in the 1990s and widely used on the Web today. XML is the best of SGML combined with the knowledge gained from HTML usage. XML is less powerful than SGML but has better construct and is easier to use.

We have reached another milestone in the transformation of the computer and communications industry. Using the Open Systems Interconnection model as a reference, IP established a level playing field for developer and user interoperability at Layer 3. TCP/UDP [User Datagram Protocol] did the same at Layer 4, and now XML addresses interoperability at Layer 7. The significance of this event cannot be understated. The power of the Internet was always presumed to be IP and TCP/UDP, but these protocols are only the "plumbing" standards to let applications interact and communicate.

XML and associated schema standards are the basis for the next generation of Web application development and productive usage. Eventually, XML will replace specialized standard communication application protocols such as SNMP and Wireless Application Protocol; application development protocols from vendors such as Microsoft, Sun and IBM; and proprietary application protocols from companies such as SAP, Oracle and PeopleSoft. Finally, XML will replace proprietary internal corporate application protocols in segments such as the finance, insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

XML will become the lingua franca of the application world, letting true business-to-business application interoperability finally occur and thereby driving Web usage and business productivity to ever-increasing heights.


Dzubeck is president of Communications Network Architects, an industry analysis firm in Washington, D.C. Reach him at

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