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XML in Brief
Published
1999, October (February 22, 2007)
Tags xml
By Julia Helo and Betsy Kent

At the August STC meeting D'Arcy Roper of eXcelon gave a brief presentation on XML. Some of the highlights of the presentation are described in this article.

What is XML, exactly?

XML is the acronym for the extensible markup language. According to the W3C, it is "the universal format for structured documents and data on the Web" (http://www.w3.org/XML/). The following list explains what XML is and what it is not (http://www.w3.org/XML/1999/XML-in-10-points).
  1. XML is a method for putting data in a text file.
  2. XML looks a bit like HTML but isn't HTML.
  3. XML is text but isn't meant to be read.
  4. XML is a family of technologies.
  5. XML is verbose, but that is not a problem.
  6. XML is new, but not that new.
  7. XML is license-free, platform-independent and well-supported.

Why is XML important?

Roper says that corporate information is everywhere. The nature of this information is constantly changing, and the data can be structured or unstructured. Perhaps most importantly, 85% of all corporate data are not stored in databases. Clearly, this means that vast amounts of knowledge are not being used to the full advantage of businesses.

XML provides a way to make use of the structured data which are stored in databases (15% of all corporate data) as well as unstructured data which are not stored in databases (85% of all corporate data) accessible by means of the Internet.

Who is using XML, and for what?

A number of organizations are using XML for various applications world-wide.

Federal Air Safety Agency

A large Federal agency that deals with airplanes and air safety is working on a "knowledge management" project. The purpose of this project is to share data between the agency and airports. The eXcelon part sits behind Microsoft Works and transparently fishes out the changed info, and sends that off to the database. Obviously, this is much more efficient than the traditional method of shipping hard copy between locations overnight. (In one extreme case, shipping all that hard copy around meant that getting approval for the repair of a leaky roof took six months.) Right now, the project is limited to airports between Los Angeles (LAX) and San Diego. Since they started using XML, the agency has shared more than 20 gigabytes of information between their agency, airports, and airlines worldwide.

Dell Computers

D'arcy described how Dell is using XML for their extensive, online product catalog. Using HTML alone, Dell would have had to revise and translate thousands of HTML pages. By using different style sheets with XML to change the content between the tags, Dell has greatly simplified the process of revising their HTML pages. The prototype for their current Web site was completed within two months.

XML Standards

Different industries and arenas are coordinating the standardization of XML tags (including legal, chemical, mathematics, financial, banking, and theological organizations). The automobile and aviation industries are also working to develop common tags. One group is developing an XML-based markup language specifically for FAQs.

How can you find out more about XML?


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