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Bluestone preps XML-only server

Bluestone Software will ship by month's end the first application server built solely to distribute XML documents--and analysts say it won't be the last.

Bluestone Software will ship by month's end the first application server built solely to distribute XML documents--and analysts say it won't be the last.

Bluestone is a trailblazer in the young, but potentially huge XML market, said Martin Marshall, director of Zona Research's Internet Server services. "The year of 1997 was the year of creating the XML specification. [The year] 1998 was the beginning of creating products that used the spec. And now 1999 is going to be the year people seriously deploy these things in a practical fashion," he said.

XML, or Extensible Markup Language, allows businesses to exchange data more efficiently and offers better searching capabilities through the Internet. Unlike HTML which has uniform tags, XML allows developers to create their own tags for data, such as price and product. The language is expected to impact e-commerce, data warehousing, and application development.

Bluestone's new XML Server, which can be used as a standalone product or used with Bluestone's Sapphire/Web application server, automatically generates and distributes XML documents from information in databases. A forthcoming toolkit, called Visual-XML, allows developers to create and receive XML documents and build Java graphical user interfaces, such as menus, tool bars, and dialog boxes for applets and applications, without having to write any code.

The toolkit offers a user interface showing the client and back-end data--and all the developer has to do is drag and drop, said John Capobianco, Bluestone's senior vice president of marketing.

Marshall was impressed. "It's ease of programming, having the ability to use the Java Swing technology without knowing what it does to create graphical user interfaces," he said. "You don't have to program. All you need to do is drag and drop and that's very nice."

Swing is a feature of the latest Java Development Kit from Sun Microsystems that allows developers to distribute applications with a variety of user interfaces.

While nearly every vendor is offering XML support for their application servers, Marshall expects some companies to follow Bluestone's lead and create standalone XML servers.

"You'll see it in a number of places," he said. "People will build out from whatever center they're coming from. An [enterprise resource planning] company like SAP or PeopleSoft will build out from their products, Web application server companies will build from their servers, and database makers from databases."

Bluestone executives are touting their product as a "dymamic" XML server, meaning it sits in the middle tier and allows documents and applications to communicate across the Web.

For example, one business can fetch data from its database, use the Bluestone XML Server to create an XML document, and ship it off to a second business's XML server. The second XML server then scans the XML document, translates the document, and places the data into its own database.

Other so-called XML servers, such as the forthcoming Excelon XML data server by Object Design, are databases for storing and caching XML documents.

Bluestone and Object Design see their XML products as complementary, not competing.

"What Bluestone does is allow you to ship and generate XML on the fly. But what's missing in the middle tier is persistence," said Vittorio Viarengo, Object Design's Excelon product manager. "Suppose you have a shopping cart on your Web site and something goes wrong, you don't want to lose all your data during your interaction with the application server. You can use Excelon as the middle-tier XML database for that persistence."

Bluestone's XML Server will cost $2,995. The Visual-XML toolkit, which will be released in beta format in March and in its final form in April for $99, was created by technology Bluestone executives call XwingML. The company is offering the source code to XwingML free on its Web site.