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Apache to create XML open-source tools

The Apache Software Foundation, a nonprofit that builds free Web technology, is turning its attention to Extensible Markup Language, an increasingly important Web technology.

The Apache Software Foundation, a nonprofit organization that builds free Web technology, is now turning its attention to Extensible Markup Language, an increasingly important Web technology, with the help of IBM and Sun Microsystems.

Apache plans to develop new Extensible Markup Language (XML) tools with technology donated by IBM, Sun, other tech firms, and independent software developers. The group plans to launch the new effort--called the "xml.apache.org Project"--tomorrow.

Their goal is to further drive the adoption of XML, a popular Web standard for exchanging data, by making tools that are "open source," meaning every software developer can view the source code, modify it, and use it for free.

XML is touted as a language that will revolutionize information exchange, much the same way HTML has defined Web pages.

XML is the latest technology to join the open source movement. The source code for Netscape Navigator and the Linux operating system, for example, are available free. Apache is best known for its popular open-source Web server, technology that delivers Web pages to users' browsers.

IBM and Sun Microsystems have donated their XML parsers for the new effort. A parser dissects and reads XML text within an application, much like a Web browser reads HTML to generate Web pages on a computer.

The xml.apache.org project is open to every developer or company, but Microsoft--which has its own XML tools--has not joined the effort. Industry observers fear the company is trying to use XML to their advantage, but Microsoft executives have scoffed at the notion, saying they support open industry standards.

As part of the Apache effort, Lotus and two independent software developers are giving away their Extensible StyleSheet Language (XSL) technology, which lets users define how a document is presented, specifying color, font, or font size. The LotusXSL processor tool, for example, allows XML documents to link to other documents that are based on XML, HTML, or other formats. Independent software developers and other firms, including DataChannel, Exoffice, and Bowstreet, are also contributing their XML technology to the effort.

Apache will collect all the technology and improve it where necessary, said Apache president Brian Behlendorf. For example, in its first project, the organization will take the best features of IBM and Sun's XML parsers and meld them into one product.

"We're planting a lot of seeds. These companies are each contributing a seed with the hope that they become flowers, vegetables, and a combination of different things," Behlendorf said. "We're integrating the different tools and trying to build a tool that has the best features of all of them."

Marie Wieck, IBM's director of XML technology, believes Apache's efforts will give software developers the tools they need to build XML into their Web sites and business software, so they can better exchange data with their customers, partners, and suppliers.

"Developers who want to engage directly with this technology will have the vehicle to do that," she said.

Nancy Lee, Sun's senior product manager for XML, added that Apache's efforts will complement the World Wide Web Consortium's standards push for XML.

"The significance of this is huge," she said. "We helped create the XML specifications. And Apache will deliver the actual implementations. You'll have free, vendor-neutral software."