Microsoft bolsters Web-accessible data plan

OData got a shot in the arm from its prime promoter this week as Microsoft announced programming tools and a standardization plan. The W3C would like to oversee the standard.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
Stephen Shankland worked at CNET from 1998 to 2024 and wrote about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read

Microsoft is putting some meat on the bones of its plan to make information that's stuck in databases reachable with the same standards used to retrieve Web pages.

At its Mix conference this week, Microsoft touted an interface called the Open Data Protocol, or OData. Specifically, the company announced an OData software developer kit to let programmers more easily use it and said it wants to standardize OData.

What fortuitous timing. Microsoft listed the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and World Wide Web Constortium (W3C) as groups where it would like to see this standardization, and the latter of these two has new management eager to tackle new projects.

Jeff Jaffe, the W3C's new chief executive, angled for Microsoft's attention, proposing the company use a mechanism the W3C hopes will speed up standardization.

"I invite you to create an Incubator Group at W3C. Incubator groups start quickly, and the members that start them can design them so that anyone can participate. A lot of people who are passionate about data are already part of the W3C community and you are likely to get a lot of feedback," Jaffe said in a blog post this week. And although Incubator Groups don't create actual standards, "they can smooth the transition from 'good idea' to 'widely deployed standard available royalty-free,'" he said.

The W3C was weakened when a group of browser makers split off to pursue development of the W3C's premiere standard, HTML, or Hypertext Markup Language, which is used to describe Web pages. The browser makers, unhappy with the W3C's focus on XHTML 2.0 that took place at the expense of HTML itself, focused on the latter on their own in a group called WHATWG, or Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group. The two groups have since reconciled, but power over the specification is held jointly, an awkward arrangement.

OData, which is built on the well-seasoned Atom publishing technology widely used to help people keep track of blog updates, is designed to make data available to Web applications. One example: an interactive map of Vancouver. And Netflix announced this week it's making its catalog data available through OData.

"Many of us at Microsoft believe the OData protocol can help usher in a more open and programmable Web by creating a common funnel to expose rich data, thereby creating a world of customized consumer mash-ups; a world where government data is transparent and accessible to any citizen; a world where you can ask a question and know, 'There's a feed for that,'" said Microsoft software architect Douglas Purdy in a blog post.