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Start-up aims to simplify XML

Clear Methods says programming with XML needs to be simplified--and it hopes its software, designed with that in mind, will win over converts.

Start-up Clear Methods believes programming with XML needs to be simplified--and it hopes its software, designed with that in mind, will win over converts.

The Cambridge, Mass., upstart created a programming language called Water that's designed specifically for handling XML (Extensible Markup Language) data. With Water, Clear Methods has built what it calls a general-purpose language that can be used to replace the numerous languages programmers need to master in order to work with Web services.

"People should learn one concept and apply it to all their different needs and avoid having to learn all these special-purpose languages," said Michael Plusch, CEO of Clear Methods.

The venture-funded company, founded in 2001, announced this week that it has updated Steam, the software that needs to be installed on computers in order to run XML applications written with Water. Version 3.1 of Steam simplifies database access and allows companies to distribute portions of Water programs across different machines on a network, including different servers or desktop PCs, according to the company.

Since its inception five years ago, XML has swept through the software industry as a standardized method for identifying, or tagging, data so that it can be easily read by computers. Companies are increasingly using XML to format business documents such as purchase orders that they can exchange with business partners over the Internet.

XML is also the foundation for Web services, a set of standards that allows companies to build applications that can more easily share information between disparate systems. Leading software companies, such as IBM, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems, have developed Web services-based development tools to appeal to growing corporate interest in Web services applications.

Clear Methods hopes to win over customers dissatisfied with Java or Microsoft's .Net-based tools for Web services. It also expects to appeal to companies that are looking to consolidate the number of tools they use.

Clear Methods executives argue that the industry heavyweights' approach to Web services tools is cumbersome and complex, because popular programming languages such as Java or Microsoft's C# (pronounced C sharp) have been updated with only a veneer of XML.

Plusch said he knew of no other company that sells a programming language that uses the syntax or grammar of XML. But Microsoft is researching related topics.

As previously reported, Microsoft is working on a project called X#. The company is investigating the building blocks, or "language constructs," for programming languages that can handle data in XML more effectively than current languages. No specific X# products are planned at this time, according to Microsoft executives.