Two titans lock horns over XML

Sun and Microsoft are once again in a battle -- this time maneuvering to settle who controls the next big step in Web technology

Microsoft and Sun Microsystems agree that XML, the Extensible Markup Language, is key to their future products and strategies. But in true rivalry fashion, the two agree to disagree on which groups are best suited for making sure XML remains a standard and doesn't splinter.

At the XML '99 conference in Philadelphia this week, Sun and Microsoft participated in a vendor keynote panel, where they outlined their respective companies' Internet plans, which intimately revolve around XML. "XML is as important to Sun's vision of the services-driven network as Java is," said Sun's director of global software operations Mike Rodgers, during the Monday night keynote.

Rodgers didn't quite go so far as to say Sun invented XML, but did insist Sun has played a key role in making the data-sharing standard a success. He also claimed Sun, IBM and, to some extent, Microsoft have all played a part in keeping XML from splintering. "Without XML, HTML would have been replaced by a more powerful proprietary format," if not by Sun, than by some other vendor, Rodgers acknowledged. "But we [Sun] wanted XML to keep Web data open and portable."

To insure such openness continues, Sun is putting its eggs in the Organisation for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards' (OASIS) and OASIS' baskets.

Rodgers pointed to OASIS' forthcoming registry and repository, which OASIS made available this week as a draft specification, as the best place for industry groups and other interested parties to submit their XML schemas.

Microsoft, like a number of the top software vendors, is a member of OASIS. But that hasn't stopped Microsoft from pushing its own portal,, as the best place for companies and industry associations to post and publish their XML schemas.

Microsoft also continues to champion its XML framework, also known as BizTalk, as the best set of guidelines for publishing and using these schemas. Microsoft released the final public version of its BizTalk framework on Monday.

Microsoft's come a long way on the XML front in a short time, said Adam Bosworth, general manager of XML and data access for the company, during the Monday night vendor keynote.

Bosworth told the XML '99 audience that just three years ago he received an email message from Microsoft CEO Bill Gates asking him what XML was. Now, Bosworth said, "Microsoft is betting the company on this [XML]."

"Along the way, Microsoft, Sun, IBM and software vendors like webMethods have all made this [XML standards process] work," Bosworth said. He added that Microsoft's policy, going forward, will be to continue to work with established standards bodies, like the W3C and the Internet Engineering Task Force to insure the standard does not fragment.

Bosworth also committed to the audience that Microsoft will do a better job of providing developers with tools and products that implement standards in the XML space--even if those standards aren't quite complete yet. On 17 January, for example, Microsoft will roll out technology preview components on its Web site that will comply with the influx XSLT and Xpath query standards. As standards crystallise, Microsoft also will provide developers and users with migration tools, enabling them to move to the final bits, Bosworth added.

At the same time, Microsoft will examine how it can work more closely with other XML standards groups, Bosworth said. But he didn't talk specifics, even though rumours at XML '99 had Microsoft possibly donating its BizTalk framework and efforts to an independent standards body.

"While we think is the place to publish and find schemas, we are interested in other schema organisations and will participate where appropriate," he added.

For more info, see the XML Special.