The Data-Driven Desktop: DataChannel Pushes XML

October 20, 1997

Seybold Report on Internet Publishing
Vol 2, No 2
The easiest way to describe DataChannel’s ChannelManager is to call it "multi-channel push," but that doesn’t really tell the whole story. ChannelManager is a hierarchy of channels containing heterogeneous content but unified by a cohesive look and feel and driven by a dynamically populated repository. With this product, DataChannel’s president, Dave Pool, wants to redefine the desktop, putting it under the control of ordinary folks publishing ordinary documents.
Pool calls it "the right information to the right person at the right time." The content, presentation and workgroup behavior are all driven by Extensible Markup Language (XML) metadata, so we call it the first commercial, end-user product to do something interesting with the Web’s new standard for open information.

DAVE POOL REMEMBERS when Bill Gates first said that the browser is the desktop of the future. It was the summer of 1996, and Pool was executive vice president of strategic development at CompuServe, a position he assumed after CompuServe acquired his Spry browser and Internet in a Box for a cool $100 million. Pool found Gates’s document-as-interface vision compelling enough to leave CompuServe and to found the Seattle start-up DataChannel. A little more than a year later, DataChannel has released its first product (ChannelManager), secured its first round of venture financing and is looking to redefine "information management" from a lexicon built on XML.

Information management typically means that some application (read "executable file") manages the information (read "data" or "document" or "page" or "query result"). What the end user sees is usually determined by the preconstructed interface of the application. ChannelManager turns this relationship on its head: XML-tagged metadata manages the application—the buttons, tabs and menus—via a browser, which—voilà!—becomes the desktop.

Or so the theory goes. Until XML comes into its own on the Web, that is, until we have monstrous XML-encoded repositories and universal conventions for access and distribution of XML-defined metadata (not to mention browsers with style sheets that will make the pages look appealing), it will remain difficult to substantiate this theory. But DataChannel seems to be putting all the right pieces together in the right order and, for the moment, is breaking new ground in data-driven, content-centric, open-standards computing. With that in mind, we recently visited the company to learn more about its products and to take a look at where it’s headed.