Jesse Berst: Four reasons you're gonna love XML

When you first started to read, words like these were probably adequate. As you became more sophisticated, you needed more complex language to communicate your ideas.

The Web -- and the people who use it -- have reached a similar point. Get ready to graduate to XML.

XML is short for "extensible markup language." It is based on the same basic principles as HTML, the lingua franca of the Web. But HTML is like a generic first-grade reader: simplistic and imprecise. In contrast, XML tags information with precise descriptions that open up new worlds of possibility.

After being hyped heavily as a makeover for the Web, XML is starting to measure up. The consortiums and their giant backers are weighing in. Consider Oracle's announcement yesterday of XML components that interface to development languages including Java, C and C++. Consider that Microsoft is supporting XML broadly in Office 2000. And that IBM recently announced it will deliver an XML toolkit as part of its WebSphere Studio.

I won't bore you with technical explanations and how-to guides. The latest working draft from the W3C offers details and the ZDNet Help Channel tells you how to make it work for you. Rather than an explanation, here are four real benefits XML will offer you in the next few years:

A better way to search.

Today a keyword search can return thousands of possibilities. Tomorrow XML tags will filter data and return only the results you want.

A better way to distribute and track information.

Today it is difficult to republish content across many sites, and more difficult to track who is reading it. Tomorrow XML will make both a snap.

A better way to do business.

Today you can browse catalogues online. Tomorrow XML tags will allow data to be customised just for you.

A better way to do business... on the road.

Today Web graphics bog down and slow Internet connections. Tomorrow your notebook will download only material tagged as text. Just as we outgrew primary readers like Dick and Jane, we have outgrown HTML. And its long-awaited successor is about to make the Web run much, much better.