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XML gets nod from Net standards group

An Internet standards group approves a new technology that it hopes will greatly improve the way businesses exchange information over the Web.

    An Internet standards group has approved a new technology that it hopes will greatly improve the way businesses exchange information over the Web.

    The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) announced Tuesday that it has approved a new Web standard, called XML schemas, that make it easier to develop common vocabularies, so companies can communicate and exchange data.

    XML (Extensible Markup Language) is a Web standard for information exchange that proponents say will reshape communications between businesses. It not only allows companies to easily and cheaply conduct online transactions with their customers and partners, but it also delivers sound, video and other data across the Web.

    XML schemas are considered a big step forward for software developers because they allow businesses to better describe or interpret the information they are sending and receiving as part of a Web transaction. Programmers previously were forced to use technology called document type definitions (DTDs) to interpret vocabularies, a technique that is relatively rigid in comparison.

    "On the surface, this may seem like a small change, but the impact is substantial," said David Turner, Microsoft's senior program manager for XML technologies.

    Turner said XML schemas are to XML what grammar rules are to English. XML schemas can allow businesses to interpret purchase orders from different customers, for example, much the way a listener takes meaning from a sentence.

    XML schemas allow software developers to better manage different types of data, such as dates, numbers and other special forms of information. The DTD technology couldn't easily interpret numbers on a document, for example, which created hurdles for e-commerce companies. Because XML schemas can better handle numbers, companies can better interpret business orders they receive.

    The W3C--through the volunteer efforts by Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, Sun Microsystems and other software companies, have been working on the XML schema standard for several years. Software companies have been building in support for the standard in their latest technologies.