XML 6: Microsoft has adopted XML. Will it bring it up nicely?

Microsoft loves XML and wants it to succeed. That's a good thing, isn't it?

Okay, sometimes we love to hate that Redmond lot, but the fact remains that if Microsoft throws its weight behind a technology, it is more likely to succeed than if it boycotts it.

Luckily, Microsoft loves XML and is banking quite a large part of its future web direction on the technology. It even had a vision back in 1998 of what it believed widespread adoption of XML would allow online consumers to do:

  • Discover all sites that have some used book he/she cannot find. Then order the book from one of them.

  • Move to the country for a month and easily discover who can cut his/her lawn back home on Saturdays. Then book someone to do so.

  • Open a spreadsheet or his/her own custom pages or Java applications and easily let any of them talk directly to any site that mages the customer's portfolios. Then make changes to the portfolio.

Okay, so it was a little obscure and specific as visions go, but what Microsoft was basically predicting was that it would be easy to discover and interact with structured data and applications on the Web.

Adam Bosworth, then general manager of Microsoft, said that first and foremost XML had to not only enable services, but make them easy, open and flexible. He pointed out that although of course the Web had predated HTML, it wasn't until the advent of HTTP and HTML that anything really exploded. He put this down to empowerment, claiming that it was only once HTML and HTTP arrived that everyday people could play with the web more easily. He said that although these protocols were not perfect from the point of view of performance, at the end of the day they were a piece of cake to use, and that was the main thing.

So Microsoft wanted to learn from this experience and use that knowledge when it came to rolling out XML tools and services. HTML was so informal that it led to a great deal of HTML junk on the web, for example, which isn't ideal.

Bringing us bang up to date, Microsoft is as keen as ever on XML. It refers to the technology as "the key enabler for Microsoft's vision of integrated, programmable web services." Of course being the creator of one of the two most ubiquitous browsers in circulation, Microsoft should love XML. By exchanging XML messages, services can easily describe their capabilities and allow any other service, application or device on the Internet to easily invoke these abilities.

Microsoft has submitted an Internet draft specification to the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) called SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), an XML-based architecture that it hopes will connect different object models over the Internet, providing an open comms model.

SOAP is essentially a Microsoft suggestion of how to create widely distributed complex computing environments that run over the Internet using the existing infrastructure. It is intended to allow applications to communicate directly with each other directly in a nice rich way. At the moment of course, we mainly use HTTP to communicate like this, or in a way approaching this, because we can be pretty sure that HTTP will be supported by pretty much every browser and web server encountered on the journey, and it's great for transferring text and graphics. But Microsoft -- and it's by no means alone -- feels HTTP is running out of steam and won't cut the mustard when it comes to invoking remote procedures. It wasn't designed with that application in mind.

By providing a simplistic and flexible mechanism to send requests and responses that can piggy-back HTTP, Microsoft believes that with SOAP it can invoke remote procedures using the current Internet infrastructure. SOAP of course, uses XML to define the format of these requests and responses. Clever at Microsoft, aren't they?

Microsoft is fiddling with XML projects all day long every day. So that its users can keep abreast of what's going on, it recently created a site called www.biztalk.org . The company hopes this site will grow into a portal for learning about publishing XML.

The future for the web is looking more and more likely to be built around an XML-framework, and Microsoft knows it.

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