The Case for XML

Are People Really Happy with HTML?

Early in 1997, Netscape (Seybold Report on Internet Publishing, January 1997), stated that HTML is and will remain the overwhelming choice for Web-based publishing. "The customer has spoken clearly preferring HTML to SGML, and Netscape feels that customer needs would be better met by deploying resources to further the functionality and ease of use of HTML." Given my first-hand experience as a participant in several major publishing sectors, I was surprised to see the lack of understanding of the publishing market initially displayed by Netscape. I am the first to admit that SGML can certainly be over-kill, even for many serious publishers. But I could not buy Netscape's early position that Internet publishers are satisfied with HTML as the predominant Web publishing language. Yes, my teenage daughter and her friends are happy with HTML. It's simple and fun to use. But early on, it was my contention that serious publishers find HTML woefully inadequate.

Publishers are clearly intrigued in the promise of publishing directly on the Web. Yet today the majority of electronic publishers remain steadfastly committed to CD-ROM as their preferred commercial delivery mechanism. According to Dale Waldt, VP of Product Development for Thomson's Research Institute of America Tax Publications, HTML is just too "brain-dead" to provide useful functionality. Datamation in its February 1997 issue points out that companies with established intranets are also becoming disenchanted with HTML. "Companies are yearning to push their intranets past the limits of read-only, in-building HTML."

HTML, the underlying language of most Web documents today, is a tag set that has been specifically designed to support display and hypertext linking. The use of HTML has grown exponentially because it is so easy to learn and to use. Tools to author in HTML are now both commonplace and affordable. But more and more, HTML is coming under fire for a number of reasons:

The eXcitement Over XML

If you have been following the development of XML, you know that the explosion of interest in this new Web language is reminiscent of the HTML explosion of the mid 1990's. Jesse Berst, Editorial Director for ZDNet AnchorDesk tells his readers (AnchorDesk, July 30, 1997) "Want to know the next important innovation for the Internet? Listen to the insiders. Leading companies, including Microsoft and Netscape are working furiously behind the scenes on something called Extensible Markup Language (XML). Berst typifies XML as "more of a big brother to HTML." He finds XML exciting because of it is made to be extended. "You simply describe the extension within XML and it becomes available to everyone." In addition, ZDNet is excited about XML because it allows customization without the worry of "proprietary" extensions, it can provide "Yahoo-like categorization" so we will finally be able to find what we need, and because XML is "rich" data, it will make it easier to build distributed applications for the Web.

XML is currently at the top of the development list for both major browser companies. Jean Paoli, formerly of Grif, is now a key member of the Microsoft Explorer team that is implementing XML. Microsoft's Channel Definition Format is based on XML and according to Lynda Radosevich in InfoWorld's September 1 issue, Microsoft plans to propose and XML stylesheet language to W3C. Netscape, too, has joined the XML fan club. Netscape has hired Tim Bray, co-editor of the XML specification to assist them in implementing the new standard. CommerceNet is basing their vision for component-based commerce on XML. And David Poole of SpryNet and Internet-in-a-Box fame, predicts that XML use will surpass HTML by the year 2000.

According to Norman Scharpf, President of GCA, "We at GCA are doing all we can to foster the development of this new language (XML) for the Web. By sponsoring conferences, tutorials, XML developers forums and through the launch of our new Web Magazine, the XML Files, GCA will assist its membership in understanding how XML can enable them take advantage of the new business opportunities the Web offers to today's publishers."

As editor of the XML Files, I am proud to bring you this first issue of a new magazine for and about XML. I welcome all comments and welcome your contributions to this exciting new publication. Drop us a line at dkennedy@gca.org.

Dianne Kennedy, Editor

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