XTech 2000 - Real World XML

February 25, 2000

Edd Dumbill

This year's XTech 2000 conference promises to be the best one yet for developers who are serious about XML.

David Megginson, co-chair along with Tim Bray and Jon Bosak, said, "We focused especially on real-world implementations. This is a developers' conference ... so we've chosen the papers that will be most interesting to people who actually write the code and design systems."

So what's on offer this year? The conference has three components: tutorials, main sessions, and an exposition. In addition, ad hoc birds-of-a-feather meetings plus the new "Town Halls" add extra opportunity for developers to meet with like minds and quiz those creating XML standards.


The first two days of XTech 2000 will be spent in tutorial sessions. These range from half-day courses to those spread over both days. The tutorials address technologies (such as XLink or XML Schema) and platforms (like Java or Python).

One to watch out for is the Apache: XML Publication Techniques session, which will describe how to use XML to publish web sites, using the tools from the Apache XML Project.

Technical Track

Unusually, all the technical sessions at XTech 2000 take place in a single track. Perhaps unfairly, I asked the conference chairs about their favorite topics in the program. David Megginson was not to be drawn into favoritism, and responded "All of them!" He added that the variety in applications of XML at the conference—from sports wires to small devices—was very exciting.

Certainly the program has room for some more esoteric subjects. Tim Bray's favorite is What XML Schema Designers Need to Know About Measurement Units. "Each of the co-chairs said, independently, 'This sounds mega-cool, but will ordinary non-obsessive people be interested?'" The co-chairs have certainly taken some risks in departing from the mainstream with the range of topics on the program—I'm optimistic that this diversity will inspire XML developers.

The organizers have not been afraid to tackle controversial topics either. An afternoon session is devoted to XML simplification, including a report from the SML-DEV group. (The SML-DEV group was created late last year after a heated debate on XML-DEV about unneeded complexity in XML.)

Town Halls

One of the most interesting components of the XTech 2000 conference will be the "Town Hall" meetings. At these sessions, members of W3C Working Groups will be available for questioning from the floor, in an "open-mike" session.

The two sessions cover two of the most pressing topics for XML developers today: XML Schemas and XML Query Language. In particular, XML Schema is currently causing much debate as it nears its completion. Are XML Schemas too complex? Will vendors implement them? Is the spec turgid? Expect these questions to be asked, as well as more searching questions about the whole W3C process.

David Megginson noted the opportunity for the W3C to connect with the developer community: "Many XML developers feel increasingly alienated from the W3C and its standards work. The W3C has been making serious efforts to reach out ... but we thought that what developers really need is ... the opportunity to actually look at and talk with the people working on the standards."

XML Two Years On

The XTech 2000 conference marks the second anniversary of the release of the XML 1.0 Recommendation. As the conference subtitle "Looking Back, Going Forward" indicates, this is a good time to take stock of where XML is at. Are people still breaking ground with XML? What are the challenges for XML developers?

Tim Bray thinks XML is more active than ever. He was initially cautious about the XTech 2000 conference: "We were getting the feeling that XML has sunk deep enough into the infrastructure that there might not actually be that much technically exciting to talk about." A quick glance through the conference program demonstrates that Bray had little to worry about. "Clearly, I was completely wrong ... the number of challenging papers was at least three times that of the year before."

David Megginson believes that the challenge for XML developers today is interoperability: "Different kinds of XML applications have to start talking to each other. It's not enough to create islands of interoperability ... we need, somehow, to generalize."

At the start of this conference, let's hope that XML developers have the energy and drive to meet this challenge. XTech 2000 provides a great forum for developers to get their voices heard above the marketing and management excitement. As the week goes on, we'll be reporting on the conference sessions and the issues that really matter to developers.