"Those [prior] innovations made a significant impact on how businesses viewed and exchanged information. XML [Extensible Markup Language] is poised to impact the Internet area the same way," said analyst Ron Rappaport of Redwood City, California-based Zona Research.
IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, and other vendors have made significant investments in the technology--and 1999 will be known as the year XML was commercially born, Rappaport said. Companies will include XML support in more and more products, such as Web browsers and application servers, he said.
Unlike HTML, which has predefined tags, XML allows developers to define their own tags for data, such as price and product. The technology can integrate data from the client to the back end. Rappaport, who recently wrote a report on the business use of XML, said the technology will impact businesses two ways: concise searching through the use of tags and more efficient data exchange through XML-based protocols for vertical markets such as finance, publishing, and multimedia.
XML-based protocols will impact business transactions over the Internet, including e-commerce, data warehousing, and application development, Rappaport said. Of the 60 or 70 already created, the more high-profile protocols include SMIL, or Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language, which takes images, text, video, and graphics and integrates them into Web-based multimedia presentations. RealNetworks, for example, uses the protocol for its new multimedia player called RealPlayer G2.
ICE, or Internet Content Exchange, allows a Web surfer to sign onto a content Web site and receive specially requested stories daily, Rappaport said. Similarly, in an intranet environment, employees, external partners, and customers can receive data tailored to their specific needs, he said.
Rappaport said XML-based protocols can also interoperate, such as VoxML, the voice recognition protocol, with the banking industry's Open Financial Exchange protocol, which facilitates the exchange of financial data between financial institututions, businesses, and consumers. Banks, for example, can build personal financial management applications that can use voice recognition simply by adding a few lines of XML code, instead of incorporating an entire voice recognition application into the financial software, Rappaport said.
With XML-specific tags, search engines can give users more refined search results, he said. A search engine seeks the term in the tags, rather than the entire document, giving the user more precise results.
"Web authors can approach content creation more strategically with XML than with HTML," Rappaport said. "When they create a document, they can use the XML metadata tag to think about how other people will consume and access that document."
Businesses are already embracing XML, which was made a standard by the World Wide Web Consortium in February. In 1998, organizations using XML in Web pages or applications climbed from about 1 percent in the second quarter to 16 percent in the third quarter, the report said.
"Toward the third quarter of 1998, XML moved from a niche technology to something increasingly talked about to shape information creation and exchange in the enterprise," Rappaport said. "It's an open standards-based foundation for integration of enterprise data. There's a tremendous amount of business efficiency lost when businesses don't embrace it."