Elpub buttonEl.pub Analytic Issue Number 2

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El.pub Analytic No. 2
"XML, .NET and distributed applications"

Page 2

Contents: Introduction of .NET | XML joins the fun | Too many tag sets? Too much data? | ASP and peer-to-peer too | Does it all stand up?

XML joins the fun

It is interesting to see the pivotal place that is given to XML. Ever since I was first introduced to SGML in the '80s, I have been struck by the narrow view of its potential uses that have been taken by most of the SGML (and now XML) community. The focus on tagging as a means of processing documents for publication or display, seems to miss the point that tagging is a means of telling computers (or rather computer programmes) what the words mean.

At one time the AI fraternity believed that, by now, computers would understand words and indeed images as easily and to the depth that most people do. So that questions posed to computers in natural language could be similarly answered by processing existing text and synthesising a response. Tagging, or as Microsoft now call it Smart Tags, is an interim solution. Tags tell the computer what the words mean without having to explain it every time in a document primarily intended for human comprehension, for example that Microsoft is the name of a company.

Thus an important class of applications of tagging is for transferring information from one computer readable format such as an EDI message, to another such as a database record. Easy for people, difficult for a computer. Tags can be used as intelligent envelopes to messages to control their timing and routing, and subsequent reuse in other applications. (Incidentally both these examples are taken from work of Jean-Pierre Gaspart of ACSE, who is less inhibited than most SGML/ XML experts in applying tagging). .NET clearly envisages using XML in this way (referring explicitly to interoperating information from spreadsheets and databases).

An important consequence of using XML on a large scale in this way would be to extend interoperability of platforms. If the output of different applications was XML tagged rather than implicitly formatted, then interoperability both between different vendors and over time between versions would be made much easier. If the tagging embraced information on rights, and was used to enable decryption of encrypted information, the security of IPR could be managed more effectively.

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