Microsoft Underscores Strategic Importance of XML

LAS VEGAS -- If there was any doubt about how serious Microsoft Corp. is about XML, Bill Gates and company worked to put those doubts to rest here at Comdex Fall ’99.

During his keynote address, Gates displayed a slide that elevated XML (eXtensible Markup Language) to a level with the graphical user interface in terms of computing milestones for users.

"The idea that you could gather up lots of information or present it in exactly the way that you want, that’s not part of the architecture today," Gates said. "And yet, it’s starting to become the case that by using XML and schema standards that we’ll get this Personal Web.

"You won’t have to go to preorganized screens, rather you get this ability to pick and mix and match, and your computer will keep track of what you’ve done," Gates predicted. "It’s not a simple thing to get those standards in place, but there’s some really great work going on now."

At a Comdex news conference, Microsoft president Steve Ballmer echoed the XML theme with a prediction of when a customizable and programmable Web experience might emerge for consumers and business-to-business. "The Internet as we know it today is not the Internet as we will know it in three or four years," Ballmer said.

By combining data and data descriptions, XML has the potential to create a much richer Web experience than HTML and its derivatives.

Microsoft recently has been pushing XML into existing products and building other products around XML. A Microsoft Windows DNA XML Resource Kit showcased XML enhancements to Internet Explorer, with the addition of an XML parser and support for XML data islands, and SQL Server, which now supports the use of SQL statements to retrieve SQL Server data in XML format on the Web through a technology preview.

Newer products or initiatives built on an XML foundation include BizTalk and Simple Objects Access Protocol.

Barry Goffe, product manager for SQL Server at Microsoft, reveals a possible motive for Microsoft’s urgency regarding XML. In the key integration areas -- supply chain integration and enterprise application integration -- the popular middleware has been Enterprise Java Beans (EJB), Goffe says. "It’s kind of a ridiculous thing because [EJB] is complex, and it locks out the NT platform.

Goffe maintains XML is a better infrastructure for integration. "It’s easier, it’s stateless, and it scales on the Internet. We’ve been talking about XML for awhile now. I don’t think we can impress upon people enough how deeply and richly we can embed XML into our platform."