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Why You Should Be "Thinking in XML"

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Author and columnist Ed Tittel explains why XML is becoming such a popular tool for capturing, managing, and delivering complex data and documents of all kinds.
Ed Tittel is a regular contributor to InformIT.
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For over three years, there's been a growing buzz in the marketplace about the eXtensible Markup Language, a.k.a. XML. A successor to the powerful metalanguage known as the Standard Generalized Markup Language, or SGML, XML can be a powerful business data modeling and management technology. When properly applied, XML is good for much, much more than capturing Web content. In fact, XML is being applied to everything from genealogies to medical records with great success! Read on to learn why your business may benefit from rethinking its information in XML, even if you don't have a Web site.

What is XML and why should you care?

In the simplest of terms, XML offers the following capabilities that have great potential value:

  • As a metalanguage, XML offers a tool for modeling all kinds of data and documents in ways that can match the most exacting requirements.

  • As a collection of existing applications (built using XML, often by industry groups or standards bodies), XML offers specific ways to organize many kinds of data or documents that fit into specific forms or categories. This is where things like the aforementioned genealogies and medical records come into play, but also where topics like style sheets, transformations, interactive documents, and multimedia scripting also have their own XML applications. There are well over 100 existing XML applications to draw from, for all kinds of data and documents.

  • As a platform for customization, XML permits existing applications to be combined and integrated using custom-built capabilities, so that organizations can draw on a huge body of work, yet customize it for their own particular use and application.

XML's great appeal to organizations large and small is that it provides a technology that permits data and documents to be modeled, easily and completely, in ways that permit organizations to capture, query, and repurpose their information assets in creative and useful ways. By supporting ways of representing document or data structures, relationships, syntax, and semantics, recasting data into XML form makes it readily available for all kinds of uses that proprietary formats or applications can't support as easily or efficiently. Indeed, one of the great beauties of XML is that once data is cast into XML form, it can be more or less arbitrarily recast into just about any other form imaginable. This explains why database vendors such as Oracle, and platform vendors such as IBM, Microsoft, and Novell have worked very hard to capture application data, documents, and all kinds of process and procedure information in XML form, and why they are placing so much emphasis on XML technologies moving forward.

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