Tech Industry

Industry consortium launches XML site

IBM, Sun Microsystems and Oracle are among the participants in a group that launches a new online service to jump-start use of the Web data exchange language.

A consortium of tech firms has launched a new online service to jump-start the use of a Web data exchange language.

Oasis, a nonprofit group that includes IBM, Sun Microsystems and Oracle, has created an online warehouse for XML (Extensible Markup Language) technology.

XML is a Web standard for exchanging data that proponents say will allow companies to easily and cheaply conduct online transactions with customers, partners and suppliers. XML is related to HTML, a language used to generate Web pages. But unlike HTML, XML allows software developers to define their own vocabulary for data exchange, making it a potentially more powerful tool for linking businesses.

The new online service on Oasis' Web portal site--XML.org--will serve as a library for XML vocabularies, "or schemas," developed by specific industries, such as insurance, health care, and any other industry grappling with data exchange and e-commerce. It will also include general XML specifications, such as the Trading Partner Agreement Markup Language, which provides a common format for companies to define and execute business contracts over the Web.

Oasis' hopes to connect its library of XML vocabularies with other libraries being developed by companies, such as Microsoft, and other industry groups, such as RosettaNet or the Object Management Group. The goal is to link all the XML repositories together, so businesses can easily find the XML vocabularies they need to conduct e-business, said Oasis executive director Carol Walker.

"It's like a Taking sides on XML house with a bunch of windows," she said. "You can get in through any window, and you'll see the same stuff in the house."

In the future, when software companies develop the necessary tools, businesses will be able to automatically connect to XML.org's Web site and download XML vocabularies, Walker said. For example, if a business receives an XML document that it doesn't recognize during an e-commerce exchange, it can automatically download the XML vocabulary from XML.org, so it can read and process the document.

Supporters of XML fear that if industries don't reach some consensus on what vocabularies contain, XML won't reach its potential for becoming the language for e-commerce.

The World Wide Web Consortium, the Internet industry standards organization which maintains the XML specification, is exploring whether to pick up the mantle in creating a universal framework for XML data exchange. In the meantime, Oasis and Microsoft--which pioneered much of the early XML specification--are leading the drive.

Microsoft could not be reached for comment. But earlier this year, Microsoft executives said they would consider linking their XML portal site and repository--called BizTalk.org--with Oasis' effort.

Oasis is also working with the United Nations to develop a uniform way for businesses to use XML.

While Oasis and others hammer out the basic XML framework, many companies are watching closely. Some companies are already using XML in business transactions, but most won't start using the technology in earnest for at least another two years, analysts said. The majority of technology decision makers in large companies are waiting for the cloudy standards picture to clear, and for large software makers to release XML-based products.

Microsoft, for its part, plans to ship later this year XML-based software, called BizTalk Server, for integrating software and business transactions between companies. Microsoft earlier this month said BizTalk Server will debut in a test version by month's end.