Just as we're all getting used to HyperText Markup Language (HTML) terminology, along comes Extensible Markup Language (XML). And just as CD drives are replacing floppy drives, XML is the leading contender to replace HTML. XML doesn't just describe pages for delivery over the Web; it delivers content that can be formatted in different ways by different devices.
Recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium (WC3), an Internet standards organization, XML is not a fixed-format language, but rather one that allows Web sites to build their own document types for direct communication with other sites. Whereas HTML lets you only download exact replicas of Web pages, XML lets business servers communicate directly with one another over the Web, adjusting accordingly.
In addition to allowing for more advanced e-business applications on the Web, XML would also make Web searches more accurate. For example, look for the word "apple" with current HTML, and you find sites about the computer manufacturer as well as sites about Granny Smiths and Gravensteins. XML would let you search for "apple" in the context of the computer manufacturer only and bypass sites about fruit.
XML.org and XML.com are two destinations geared to developers. Microsoft, a strong XML proponent, has launched its own Web site, BizTalk.org. Less technically minded people can get grounded at the "Info for Newcomers to XML" and "How People are Using XML" sections at XMLinfo.com.
XML is still in the introductory stage-currently, only Microsoft's Internet Explorer 5 browser supports XML. However, the upcoming Netscape 6 browser should support the new language as well. Smart businesses must decide whether to jump in with XML or wait out the online evolution with HTML. For basic sites, HTML will remain the easiest way. For businesses desiring pages that don't just show information, but act and react with it, it's time for an XML primer.
- W3C, www.w3.org