XTech 2000 Offers View into XML Crystal Ball

Last year was a breakout year for XML. And with major doings on the horizon, it could become an overwhelming task to keep track of XML-related matters in 2000 and beyond. XML’s rise is evidenced by the popularity of a recent conference devoted solely to the standard. XTech 2000, an XML software developer conference sponsored by the Graphic Communications Association (GCA, www.gca.org) and cosponsored by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS, www.oasis-open.org). Industry leaders such as Microsoft Corp. (www.microsoft.com), Sun Microsystems Inc. (www.sun.com) and IBM Corp. (www.ibm.com) lent support to the conference.

Hot topics at this year’s XTech 2000 conference included the Trading Partner Agreement Mark-Up Language (tpaML) that IBM recently submitted to OASIS, in addition to a number of emerging technologies and trends that hadn’t been formally introduced by either OASIS or the World Wide Web Consortium (WC3, www.w3.org) prior to the conference.

One area is the phenomenon of XML linking, which has the potential to expand HTML’s limited support for resource linking. Eve Maler, staff engineer at Sun and co-editor of a proposed XML linking specification, presented a tutorial track on XML linking, which is composed of three related components: XLink, XPointer, and XML Base. Maler says the XLink component, in particular, will create additional options for developers by allowing them to link from a greater number of elements. As a matter of fact, XLink can turn any element into a link.

Another topic getting attention at XTech 2000 was the open source Apache XML Project (xml.apache.org), an effort to provide a commercial-quality XML server based on the Apache Web server. Pierpaolo Fumagalli, a developer with the Apache XML Project’s Cocoon initiative, which enables XML-based Web publishing in Java, provided an overview of the process of developing Web sites with XML. Pulling from his own experience in developing the Apache XML Project’s own XML-based Web site, Fumagalli stressed the need to ensure maximum flexibility at every stage of the design process.

Many analysts and industry-watchers expect XML will revolutionize electronic data interchange (EDI), a possibility that wasn’t lost on many of the participants at this year’s XTech2000 conference. And the buzz surrounding tpaML only heightened that awareness. In early February, IBM submitted plans for tpaML to OASIS. If it’s approved, tpaML would use XML to define and implement general terms and conditions for electronic contracts and participant roles. Because of its application in the field of EDI, tpaML can define how trading partners will interact at the transport, document exchange, and business protocol layers.

"XML lets you be unconstrained by somebody’s previous definition. So when you look at EDI, a lot of times when I get done mapping all of these things from my AS/400 that I want to bring over to my HP 3000 or 9000 system, I’m left with some data that just won’t come over," says Al Smith, vice president of software development at Bluestone Software Inc. (www.bluestone.com). "But when you look at XML, a lot of that excess time goes away because there’s a definition of the data with a data. So it’s very easy to modify your programs."

As a whole, XTech 2000 consisted of a series of XML-related tutorials, as well as a management track that catered to business executives. "This was a cutting-edge conference, designed for those who need to know what will be important this coming year," says Tim Bray, Seybold Fellow, co-editor of the WC3’s XML specification, and president of XML venture Textuality Services (www.textuality.com).