Schemas Top Delegate Wishlist at XML'99

December 6, 1999

Edd Dumbill

Dan Connolly of the W3C
provides a standards update.

The status of the W3C's XML Schema work was high up the priority list for attendees in the Standards Update session Monday morning. The W3C's Dan Connolly, taking questions from the floor, said that although the work had slipped by a month a "candidate recommendation" would be issued soon.

Candidate recommendations are a new kind of W3C technical report, where the W3C wants implementation feedback on a specification before proceeding to proposed recommendation stage. Connolly, joint leader of the W3C's XML activity, said he was uneasy about specifications that were issued with little implementation experience.

The desire for information and action on XML Schemas was reinforced by the lunchtime "birds of a feather" sessions, at which the schemas session was by far the most popular.

Another issue that came up in the W3C question and answer session was SML, the initiative to create a simplified markup language, started on the XML-dev mailing list by Don Park. When asked how the W3C viewed this initiative Connolly expressed some sympathy to the cause, indicating that he thought there was something in it.

The silence of the XML "institution" so far on SML has been deafening. No disapproval or otherwise has been expressed from those in "official circles." Indeed, the W3C itself at one point set up a working group to investigate further simplification of XML, but was disbanded as it could not agree on exactly which subset of XML should be used. It remains to be seen if the SML group can succeed where the W3C hasn't, but there seem to be those in the W3C working groups that hope it will.

What happens to technologies that fall through the gaps? The W3C's resources are plainly stretched, and a growing number of areas where standardization is desirable are not "vertical" or high-level enough for other consortia. One questioner asked if the W3C would create a standard for RPC via XML (as in XML-RPC and SOAP). Dan Connolly reported that there are investigations being made but no definite plans.

It looks as if the wheel is being reinvented by various groups. RPC is a fundamental feature of e-business -- getting a remote server to perform a task or initiate a transaction. Some form of RPC is being implemented in various e-business frameworks. If there were one sanctioned XML RPC mechanism it would be a step forward in interoperability for e-business. Currently Microsoft's SOAP, proposed to the IETF, seems to be the frontrunner.

Diversity in standards bodies

Paul Conn, CTO of IdeAlliance,
presented a new consortium
organized by the GCA.

Presenting also during the morning standards session were Paul Conn from IDEAlliance, the GCA-based organization offering leadership to vertical industry standards processes.

OASIS CTO Norbert Mikula presented on the various OASIS programs, the most recent of which is ebXML, a joint activity with UN/CEFACT aimed at providing a common framework for e-business.

Concluding the standards presentations was Microsoft's Chris Kurt, who gave an overview of the BizTalk activity, which is comprised of a framework, a repository, and a Microsoft server product.

Aside from the inevitable acronym overload that comes with standards bodies, the session presented an interesting overview and comparison of the various approaches being taken to standardization in XML.

As the W3C is recognizing more with its candidate recommendation reports, implementation is very important in getting support for standards. In this respect Microsoft's BizTalk is running ahead of similar activities, such as OASIS's, by having code libraries and prototype servers available.

Various standards bodies differ in the openness of their specification process. While the W3C's reports are published free of charge, only members get an early look at an specification from the GCA's IDEAlliance. This also reflects the different emphasis: the W3C concentrates on broadly applicable standards, while IDEAlliance focuses on vertical industry applications.