XMI Builds the Bridge for Object Developers

For those who dream of programmers, developers and all others who work with object technology living in perfect harmony, that day isn't so far off. IBM Corp., Unisys Corp. (www.unisys.com), Oracle Corp. and other leading software vendors and end-users presented the final proposal of the XML Metadata Interchange Format (XMI), an industry standard designed to streamline collaborative application development efforts on the Web.

The proposal was submitted to the Object Management Group (OMG, www.omg.org), an object technology standards body, at the group's annual member meeting in November. XMI is intended to give developers working with object technology and using a diverse set of tools, even ones from different vendors, the ability to exchange programming data over the Internet in a standard method.

"Say you have a team of people who design the system, and they've created the architecture," explains Valerie Olague, manager of IBM application development and object technology marketing communications. "Now you have to send the object to the programmers. If they make changes, which they almost always do, using different software, the only way to maintain your original design is to have a model."

With the widespread support it's receiving, XMI aims to make XML (eXtensible Markup Language), integrated with the OMG's Unified Modeling Language (UML) and Meta Object Facility (MOF), the best option for an open information interchange model.

UML provides system architects working on object analysis and design with one consistent language for specifying, visualizing, constructing and documenting the data in software systems, as well as for business modeling. MOF is a unifying framework for describing, representing and manipulating meta-information in distributed environments.

UML and MOF are mostly invisible to developers because all they need to know is that they can design an object in IBM's VisualAge for Java, tweak it in Rational Software’s Rational Rose, and open it once again in Oracle Database Designer -- all without losing a single key stroke.

Richard Soley, chairman and CEO of the OMG, says XMI is the final piece in the collaborative puzzle that started with 1997 release of UML and MOF. He expects the XMI standard to pass as easily as the others. Soley also says he's been impressed with the widespread support, especially since companies will have to work even harder to develop best-of-breed development tools.

As for Microsoft Corp., it's been taking the Java approach to XML: It's a useful development language, but wouldn't make it vendor neutral. This presents an especially tough challenge for Sridhar Iyengar, Unisys fellow and chair of the Object Analysis and Design Task Force for OMG. It's Iyengar's responsibility to Unisys, a company well-known for Windows NT-compatible solutions, that makes it difficult for him and his company to press forward with this technology. But Iyengar is confident that Unisys will find a common ground.

"When I put on my Unisys hat, I have to make sure things are compatible with Microsoft," Iyengar explains. "Our [Unisys] strategy is very clearly to bridge the gap between the mainframe and Unix-using NT. Part of that strategy is to integrate our standards with Microsoft's products."