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New XML e-business standard introduced

A U.N. group and a consortium including IBM and Sun Microsystems finalize ebXML, a standard they hope will make it easier for companies to communicate over the Web.

A consortium of technology companies and a United Nations organization have finalized a new e-business Web standard that will provide a variety of businesses with a common way of conducting trades online.

The group, dubbed Oasis, which includes IBM, Sun Microsystems, BEA Systems, Hewlett-Packard and others, has worked with a U.N. technology group for the last 18 months to create a blueprint for businesses to use XML (Extensible Markup Language) to connect to one another and make trades online. The U.N. group and Oasis approved the standard at a meeting in Vienna on Friday.

XML is a Web standard for exchanging data over the Internet. The work by Oasis and the U.N. group is one of many collaborative efforts by the technology industry to make XML the preferred language for communication online. It's being used, for example, to help tech companies offer software as a service over the Web.

Oasis and the U.N. group have built Electronic Business XML, or ebXML, which will allow companies, whether they are in the same industries or not, to communicate over the Web.

The new standard defines a common way for companies to handle and route data to one another and offers a set of guidelines for specific industries to define their own XML vocabularies. While industries define "price" the same way, shoe manufacturing and financial companies, for example, will need their own XML vocabularies to describe data. And the travel industry must define the data structure for travel, destination and restrictions.

ebXML is designed to make it easier for businesses in a common industry to communicate; but the standard is also geared toward making it easier for these different vocabularies to be used together.

Various industries building their own vocabularies have begun to rally around ebXML. For example, RosettaNet--which has defined an XML standard that helps tech companies exchange information among suppliers, manufacturers and buyers--previously used its own method of swapping XML messages. But it's since adopted ebXML's communications standard for message swapping, according to an Oasis representative.

Proponents of ebXML say the standard will allow companies using older data-exchange technology, called Electronic Data Interchange, or EDI, to start using more flexible and potentially cheaper XML-based software.

Microsoft, whose executives have not ruled out support for ebXML, has its own competing set of XML guidelines called BizTalk.