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Oasis XML consortium brewing standard

A consortium of tech firms is working with a United Nations organization to develop a common way for businesses to use Extensible Markup Language (XML) to exchange data.

A consortium of tech firms is working with a United Nations organization to develop a common way for businesses to use Extensible Markup Language to exchange data.

Extensible Markup Language (XML) is an increasingly popular Web standard for businesses, in markets such as finance, manufacturing and publishing, to exchange information with each other via the Internet.

The consortium is dubbed Oasis, and it includes more than 100 companies including IBM, Sun Microsystems and Microsoft. It recently met with a United Nations technology group to work out plans to build a "framework," or a uniform model, for XML usage, said Robert Sutor, Oasis' chief strategy officer and IBM's XML industry standards liaison.

The group's goal for its initiative--called Electronic Business XML, or ebXML--is to develop some specifications in six months and deliver a final model in 15 to 18 months, Sutor said. In its first meeting late last month, they created several working groups that include education, marketing and technical support.

Right now, specific industries are building their own XML formats to describe data. Some industries may have data that's specific to their own areas. The travel industry, for example, must define the data structure for travel, destination, restrictions and pricing models. While Oasis and the United Nations want the industries to continue to develop XML technology specific to their markets, the two groups want to hammer out cross-industry processes for message exchange.

"The goal is interoperability," he said. "In the absence of specifications that everybody can use, companies will start reinventing [the same] things. We hope to reduce the redundancy."

The United Nations group involved in the effort is called the United Nations body for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business. It handles the technology development and worldwide policies of electronic business and helped develop the international Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) standard.