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XML decision due next week

The World Wide Web Consortium is expected to announce a decision on whether eXtensible Markup Language will be made a standard.

The standards-setting body World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) will make an announcement as early as Tuesday on what many consider the great leap forward for Web-based content.

W3C director Tim Berners-Lee will announce his decision whether to make XML, or eXtensible Markup Language, a Web standard. XML is related to HTML, the language the Web is built on, but allows for much greater flexibility in describing documents and data. Proponents say that adoption of XML--which is already in use even though it's not yet an official standard--will make networked information easier to find, categorize, and customize.

For example, XML will allow online booksellers to use tags such as "price," "number of pages," and "author." A customer with an XML browser then can use these specific criteria to sort through the inventory and arrange the results on the desktop. Combined with Java programs as well as new techniques known collectively as dynamic HTML, XML will make browsers much more flexible, according to Tim Bray, coeditor of the XML specification.

"We're flabbergasted at the speed at which people are jumping on board," Bray said.

Several companies, including Microsoft, Adobe Systems, DataChannel, and webMethods, have released or announced plans to release Internet software that reads XML.

The W3C members have already voted on the specification but the results have not been disclosed. Their vote is not binding, however. Even if all its members approve the specification, Berners-Lee must sign off before it becomes a standard. He is likely to announce his decision Tuesday, a W3C spokeswoman said.

If Berners-Lee does not vote for standardization, the specification will go back to the XML working committee for modification.