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Application development news, tools, and how-tos for programmers
  • Developer 5 a must-have tool for FileMaker users

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 9:39 pm

    If your organization is like many others, there's a good chance you use a FileMaker Pro database for tasks such as managing workgroups, analyzing sales information, creating online catalogs, and sharing data among users. Considering the frequency with which your users access FileMaker Pro for these crucial functions, there is an even better chance that you would be interested in extending the functionality of FileMaker Pro to save development time, decrease training costs, and increase employee productivity.
  • New tool kit uncorks Oracle iFS

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 9:36 pm

    Oracle is promoting its newly unveiled Internet File System (iFS) as a way for enterprise customers to quickly make use of XML for sharing data among different Web-based commerce and business applications.
  • Gates introduces tools for Internet development

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 9:34 pm

    In a city visited by most to escape reality, Bill Gates today smiled for two hours and detailed his dream for Microsoft Corp.'s future, a future in which Microsoft remains undivided and assumes a leadership position in Internet software.
  • Enlivening the Digital Dashboard

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 9:30 pm

    Looking to enrich Digital Dashboard users' experience, Microsoft Corp. today unveiled an Internet standards-based approach to build components that will provide the desktop portal with lively, reusable, personalized content.
  • Oasis to open XML schema repository

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 8:42 pm

    The XML interoperability consortium Oasis is slated to announce next Tuesday public access to the first phase of XML.org Registry, an open registry and repository for XML specifications and vocabularies, according to group officials.
  • Microsoft beefs up BizTalk

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 8:40 pm

    Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday announced the XML-based BizTalk Framework 2.0, touting increases in the programming guidelines' protocol support and reliability.
  • Programming XML in Java

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 8:21 pm

    Yet you're not sure how to use XML with your Java programs.

  • UPS high on new wireless ASP service

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 8:19 pm

    ATLANTA -- Wireless application service provider Air2Web this week will unveil a service based on Java and XML that enterprises can use to deliver corporate data to wireless devices. Here's how the service, called Always Interactive, works. Companies that want to let users of handheld devices access corporate data tell Air2Web what the data is and how it should be presented. Air2Web can accept calls from almost any device that connects via a wireless carrier. Incoming requests from the wireless devices are handled by the Air2Web software. The software packages the request in XML and sends it to the customer's Web site. There, the needed data is pulled from the corporate databases, packaged again in XML and sent back to Air2Web. Finally, the Air2Web software creates a presentation display or voice message for the original device. Air2Web's breadth of device support is what attracted Atlanta's package delivery giant United Parcel Service. UPS, which is putting the final touches on a new wireless service, due out next month, will use the service to let handheld users track packages, find UPS drop-off boxes, determine the cost of shipping and find out how long shipments will take. UPS already lets users of the wireless Palm VII access some of this information through Palm.net. But far more people are using pagers or mobile phones that can send and get compact messages via the Short Message Service (SMS). "We wanted to let many more users access UPS functionality," says Robert Conner, UPS' director of interactive marketing. UPS evaluated 10 integrators and service providers. "No one could offer the platform support Air2Web offered," Conner says. "Once they received an API from us, they could format our data and send it to an SMS or Research in Motion pager, or a Web phone. That opened the market for us to cover a much larger area of the country." Developing the new service has been "very smooth. I can't tell you how well it's gone," Conner says. One reason for that smoothness is that using a wireless ASP service freed UPS to focus on a small set of manageable issues: what data will be accessible and how it will be displayed. Because the data exchanged between Air2Web and UPS, which Air2Web calls a "conversation," is carried out in standard XML, neither side has to know the intricacies of the other's data and application architecture, says Dale Gonzalez, Air2Web's vice president of wireless devices. So development of applications is simpler and faster than traditional programming. Even user registration is simple. Users register via a provisioning application developed by Air2Web that appears to be on UPS.com. For cell phone users, the application reads the user's phone number and deduces preliminary information about the device, the net and the carrier. Users are then prompted with pictures of the phone models supported by their carrier, and they click on the one they use. The core of Air2Web's service is BEA Systems' BEA WebLogic application server. Most of the software is written in Java, with some parts in C++. As a result, Air2Web plans to add support for some powerful transaction-oriented applications, not just information retrieval. "We can transfer money," Gonzalez says. "We'll soon be rolling out direct billing, where users can charge small purchases to their phone bills. And we're planning to deliver secure credit card payments." Air2Web is offering Always Interactive as an application platform, with an API that developers can call to make use of the wireless service instead of having to create their own. Pricing ranges from $475 for 100 users to $9,350 for 5,000 users.
  • XML Solutions snags GM exec for top post

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 8:17 pm

    Ron Shelby, a former senior technology executive at General Motors Corp., has been tapped as the new head of McLean, Va.-based XMLSolutions Corp., a business-to-business software company. Shelby, 48, will take over as CEO as his predecessor, Kevin Kail, assumes the position of co-chairman and president. XML Solutions develops software that allows businesses to exchange data over the Internet. According to XML Solutions spokesman Daryn Walters, for the past couple of months, Shelby has been helping to guide the company as a member of its board of directors. "Ron can help us grow the company better than anyone," Walters said. "He has followed us since we were founded [in June 1999] and given friendly advice to the company. He knows what our business means. We have a great deal of respect for him." Walters said that although Shelby wasn't looking to leave GM, where he held a "position of prestige," he just couldn't pass up the offer to take the helm of XMLSolutions. Walters said Shelby will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the 160-person company, which has offices in Europe and Asia, as well as the U.S. "[Our company] is focused on leveraging legacy systems for new e-business initiatives," Walters said. "And [Shelby] is an expert in legacy systems and e-business." Peter O'Kelly, an analyst at Patricia Seybold Group in Boston, said Shelby's move to XMLSolutions suggests that the XML space is maturing and that it's becoming important to bring in a person who has traditional business and management experience like Shelby does. "I didn't look at this [announcement] and say, 'Oh, gosh, something must be wrong with GM's plans in this space,' but just the opposite -- that GM must have completed all its plans in this space and it was hard for a pioneer like Shelby [to move forward]," O'Kelly said. John S. DeSimone, an analyst at The Delphi Group in Boston, agreed that it made perfect sense for XMLSolutions to hire Shelby. "As [these companies] become more prominent in this space, they need more advertising and marketing power," DeSimone said. Kate Fessenden, an analyst at Boston-based Aberdeen Group Inc., said XMLSolutions is growing so fast and rolling out products so quickly that it needs a CEO with an understanding of the business and where the company is headed. "Ron's a great choice," she said.
  • Directories meet e-comm

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 8:12 pm

    SAN DIEGO -- Long thought of as a place to manage end users and organize lists of employees, the enterprise directory is quickly evolving into a platform for e-commerce and a key technology for use with XML-enabled applications. That evolutionary process and its importance for enterprise users will get a thorough examination this week at The Burton Group's Catalyst Conference in San Diego. IT executives will get a peek at new products from several vendors, including Netegrity and Oblix, that are designed to help firms securely expose their directories to outside users. The directory is key for controlling business partners' access to applications and data, which is a pressing issue among IT executives building e-commerce relationships. They also will be looking at the Directory Services Markup Language (DSML), an XML specification introduced at the conference last year to great fanfare. The now emerging DSML 2.0, which will be put on a standards track, raises hopes of XML and directory integration, along with concerns over fragmentation of directory access standards. "The directory has popped up a level in importance and the question now is, 'How do we leverage the directory to build electronic commerce applications?'" says Jamie Lewis, president of The Burton Group, a consulting firm in Midvale, Utah.

    Controlling net access

    One of the conference's key topics will examine the directory as a platform and explore how to use it to control access to internal systems by potentially thousands of external business partners. "Access management is the hottest topic for us right now," says Harold Albrecht, chairman of the Network Applications Consortium (NAC), a user organization with the goal of improving interoperability of applications in heterogeneous environments. "I don't want to poke a new hole in my firewall every time someone needs access to an internal system. I need a more flexible way to manage external users across what have traditionally been rigid enterprise boundaries." Albrecht says the directory is the foundation for solving the issue. In March, the NAC began developing a general-access management model for its members. Those members will get a look at some new access products this week at Catalyst. Netegrity plans to unveil its Delegated Management Services (DMS), which lets companies delegate user administration to business partners. DMS lets partners manage only their portion of a host directory, deleting and adding users and assigning access rights within a set of guidelines. Oblix will introduce Web browser-based software, dubbed NetPoint, that lets IT managers control the authentication and access of trading partners and customers to the company's extranets and Web-enabled applications. NetPoint lets customers subscribe to a host's extranet and add or delete user accounts and passwords for its employees and manage workflow processes. In addition to access, other key issues will find prominence at Catalyst, including DSML 2.0. A year ago at the conference, e-commerce vendor Bowstreet introduced the 1.0 version with backing from Microsoft, Novell and Oracle, among others. Version 1.0 was limited, providing only a description of a directory's content. DSML 2.0 promises to add query and modification capabilities and the ability to manipulate directory data, a critical step allowing developers of XML-enabled applications to add hooks to a directory. The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) has created a working group to put DSML 2.0 on a standards track. A draft specification is expected this fall. "DSML 2.0 is more transactional and opens up a whole new arena for XML apps to use the directory," says James Tauber, director of XML technology for Bowstreet and chairman of the OASIS DSML Technical Working Group. Many vendors, including iPlanet, Radiant Logic and Sun, will use Catalyst to demonstrate support for DSML. Radiant Logic plans to introduce Radiant One 1.5, which supports DSML 1.0. The software is a "virtual directory" that has an intelligent cache to accelerate LDAP-based access and modification of back-end database information. But DSML 2.0 is raising some questions as XML and directories continue on a course toward convergence. Observers are concerned about the overlap of DSML and the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol and whether LDAP, XML's Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) or both will become the protocol of choice for accessing a directory. LDAP isn't particularly suited to traverse corporate firewalls, while SOAP is designed just for that purpose. "The concern is over the ability to get some sort of universal agreement," says The Burton Group's Lewis. "DSML should provide a mechanism that is protocol-independent." Lewis says with many hands in the DSML pie, including those of OASIS and Microsoft's BizTalk.org, and the speed at which XML efforts are moving, the possibility is high for fragmentation in creating a standard set of XML tags to access the directory. Lewis says getting a single standard is important to provide developers a simple mechanism for building directory support into XML-based applications without having to use low-level programming techniques. Scoop: DSML One of the latest additions to XML is DSML, the Directory Services Markup Language. DSML 1.0 provides a standard way for applications to read directory content. More specifically, DSML offers a common way to represent directory schema, the language used to describe a directory's content. The schema of different directories and even specific deployments of the same directory uses different tags to identify chunks of directory data, called objects. This makes it impossible for those directories to read each other's content. For example, one directory may use "Telephone" to label an object attribute as a telephone number, while another may use "Phone" for the same purpose. DSML would provide a standard XML tag, for example "Tele," to define that attribute, allowing directories to understand each other's schema and share information. With DSML 2.0, which is under development, users will have a standard way to query a directory and modify its contents. The implications are huge for XML-based e-commerce applications, which could use DSML to talk to any directory. "Directories are increasingly going to be used in electronic commerce," says James Tauber, director of XML for vendor Bowstreet in Portsmouth, N.H.. "DSML makes it easier to use the directory in your application development." But IT executives shouldn't look for DSML as a product; those most exposed to it will be application developers looking for an easier route into the wealth of data stored in directories. DSML means developers won't have to use programming languages like C or Java to get to a directory, but instead can use scripting much like they use to access databases. DSML will have to work with a wire protocol, such as the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol or XML's Simple Object Access Protocol, to connect to a directory. In the end, the hope is IT executives won't have to worry if applications are built for specific directories as long as they know DSML is handling the plumbing between the two.
  • Wells Fargo's IT Arm Blazes Java, XML Trail

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 8:09 pm

    NEW YORK -- Wells Fargo & Co. has laid the groundwork for one of its most ambitious XML initiatives to date, taking a pioneering approach to the common problem of making legacy data available for new uses. The San Francisco-based financial services company's information technology arm has built a Java-based middle tier that will use XML to help tie together customer data from multiple sources to create a profiling and referral system, enterprise architect Bob Carasik told the XML DevCon gathering here last week. At a time when major XML projects are still on the drawing board at many companies, Wells Fargo's project is an example of a flexible multitier architectural approach that companies can use to deliver legacy data to a wide range of client devices or other businesses from a variety of back-end systems, analysts said. "This is representative of a future mainstream trend, which is basically getting a lot of additional value out of your enterprise applications by leveraging XML to open them up to a much broader audience," said Peter O'Kelly, an analyst at Boston-based Patricia Seybold Group Inc. Josh Walker, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., said XML and Java are still in their infancies, but they're well suited to each other, since "Java is portable code and XML is portable data." Part of the impetus for the Wells Fargo project was the need to sell the same products to all the bank's customers in the wake of a 1998 merger with Norwest Bank, Carasik said. For instance, Norwest sold mortgages before the merger, but Wells Fargo didn't. So Wells Fargo pulled together retail customer data from different sources into a single IBM-mainframe-based DB2 database and built a middle tier, using Enterprise JavaBeans and San Jose-based BEA Systems Inc.'s WebLogic application server to help direct the data between the mainframe and various client machines. Carasik said he expects that the architecture will allow the company to access other databases and exchange data with other businesses. Wells Fargo has even built privacy attributes into the XML-based profiles so they can be adapted to changing regulatory requirements, he added. In setting up the new system, one of the key decisions that Wells Fargo faced was how much of the immature XML specification it could use. Carasik said the firm stuck with widely used pieces. Another key decision was where to transform the data into XML. Carasik said the company opted to do that on the application server, where the tools were better, rather than on the mainframe. That way, it didn't have to spend time and money changing the mainframe's existing transport -- fixed-format messages via Open Database Connectivity (ODBC). "We're more concerned with using our resources to add additional data sources than we are with upgrading the messaging interface to that one database," Carasik said. Instead, the message delivered via ODBC is wrapped into a Java Database Connectivity interface and shown to a program that Wells Fargo wrote. The program decodes the message and builds a new XML message with the customer profile. That XML-based profile is then sent to a Web server via HTTP. Wells Fargo sends asynchronous messages from the middle tier to the client via the Web protocol HTTP rather than via Remote Method Invocation. "That's the way you want to build systems that go over an unreliable network like the Internet," according to David Smith, an analyst at Gartner Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn. Also, Carasik said, "if the server interface changes, the client programs reading the XML data don't have to change . . . (because) the data is accessed by name, not by position in the message."
  • Multiple XML repositories raise standards concerns

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 8:06 pm

    NEW YORK -- The multiple repositories being set up to store the XML schema that businesses will need to exchange data with one another left some end users confused and concerned last week at the XML DevCon show here. The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), a nonprofit consortium in Billerica, Mass., last week announced that more than 20 organizations have registered to submit XML schemas, Document Type Definitions (DTD) and supporting documentation with its XML.org Registry. Major vendor sponsors and contributors include Oracle Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., Documentum Inc. and IBM. But that XML.org Registry is similar in nature to the schema repository that Microsoft Corp. established last year as part of its BizTalk e-commerce initiative. Microsoft product manager David Turner said more than 150 member organizations participate in BizTalk and more than 500 schemas have been published to BizTalk.org. And beyond BizTalk.org and XML.org, there are other repositories in the works. One vendor, XMLGlobal Technologies Inc. in Seattle, is even developing tools to help industries or companies create their own schema repositories.

    'Converge, Not Diverge'

    "My fear is there are just going to be slight variations, if history is any indication," said Daniel Paolini, manager of enterprise initiatives for the state of New Jersey's CIO. "The whole point is to converge, not diverge." "I'm dealing with about four different repositories right now that I'm being asked to take a look at," said Michael Cipoletti, a technology manager at Osram Sylvania Inc. in Danvers, Mass., citing the potential for differing purchase orders in multiple repositories. "If you look at BizTalk.org, it's being flooded with proprietary schemas, and they really have no value whatsoever." Microsoft, OASIS and other repository hosts don't aim to define purchase orders or any other business document types. They merely want to serve as public clearinghouses for the schemas and vocabularies that industry organizations devise for business-to-business data exchange. OASIS Executive Director Laura Walker said she expects there eventually will be many interoperable repositories for XML schemas and DTDs. Turner said that's one possible scenario, but he added that he's not sure how it would work. "I couldn't tell you right now what our definitive plans for BizTalk.org are," he said.

    Microsoft Claims Commitment

    Microsoft is a member of OASIS but didn't sponsor XML.org because it "didn't see a value in investing $100,000 in it," said Turner. BizTalk member organizations currently must submit a schema in a special format that Microsoft developed, but Turner said Microsoft has "a full commitment to migrating to and supporting" the World Wide Web Consortium's XML schema specification once it's ready. Any schemas residing in BizTalk.org will then be converted to conform to the XML schema spec, Turner said. "What's important is the standard, and Microsoft, at least with its words, is committed to the standard," said Steve Garone, an analyst at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass.
  • Leverage legacy systems with a blend of XML, XSL, and Java

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 8:03 pm

    No matter which way you try it, interfacing a mainframe from an application server or servlet is never fun. Among other hurdles to overcome, the mainframe could exist on a different platform or use a different character set. Think you can simply access the data directly and rebuild your business logic? Perhaps, if your database is not hierarchical and you enjoy reinventing the wheel. However, a few tricks using XML, XSL, and Java can make it easier than you think.
  • IBM launches new line of servers

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 7:55 pm

    IBM has launched its new line of servers under the name eServer, Big Blue announced on Tuesday. The servers are geared towards electronic business and feature mainframe reliability, as well as support for open standards, including Linux, IBM said in a statement. The eServer line marks the first time that IBM has sold its business computers under one brand name. The eServers are divided into four types: the top of the line zSeries, the Unix-based pSeries, the high performance, mid-market targeted iSeries and the lower priced, Intel-based xSeries, IBM said. The eServer zSeries 900 will hit the market on Dec. 18, IBM said. Along with Linux, the servers also support Java, XML (Extensible Markup Language), HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) and HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), and can also be packaged with IBM's WebSphere Application Server, the company said. Along with the announcement of its eServer line, IBM also launched z/OS, the company's new 64-bit operating system, which is compatible with the eServers.

    IBM, in Armonk, New York, can be reached at http://www.ibm.com/.

  • B2B is ideal test bed for XML Digital Signatures

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 7:51 pm

    We can now take for granted the notion that electronic signatures, under U.S. law, may be as legal and binding as the pen-and-paper variety. The new Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act has removed legal impediments to potential acceptance of various electronic techniques for signing commercial contracts and other agreements. Now the critical issue is not whether electronic signatures are valid, but whether any particular electronic signature technology or procedure can withstand real-world legal challenges. There is no legal precedent for digital signatures, and a body of relevant case law will take several years to build. We should be avidly putting our new "cyber-Hancock" law into practice, but instead the more cautious legal advisors are urging us to take it slow and steady. But it would be absurd for us in the private sector to wait a generation or two, deferring electronic signature implementations until lawyers and judges make up their collective minds on the matter. Besides, the legal community is waiting for us to make the first move, try out various approaches, and come forth with real-world test cases. The new law gives us free rein to continue developing digital signature technologies, based on legislators' desire to let the free market set its own standards in this fast-changing area. That's why, for example, the new law uses the generic term "electronic signatures" rather than the more specific "digital signatures." The latter term would imply that the correct, government-sanctioned approach involves use of such existing technologies as public-key cryptography, X.509 certificates and the Digital Signature Algorithm. These technologies may be perfectly suited to the task but are not necessarily, in their current forms, the final word on the subject. One of the law's core principles is the U.S. government's desire to "permit parties to a transaction to determine the appropriate authentication technologies and implementation models for their transactions, with assurance that those [approaches] will be recognized and enforced." A good place to start experimenting with digitally signed transactions is in today's business-to-business trading communities. Those communities come in myriad forms, ranging from electronic marketplaces to traditional extranets. What they all share is reliance on binding legal contracts that define roles, responsibilities, terms, conditions and risks for participants. There's nothing stopping an e-marketplace operator from implementing a digital signature approach for transactions in its environment, as long as the community's membership agreement describes that approach, and participants assent to it by signing the membership agreement - an act that may represent a participant's only pen-and-paper signature in the community. On commercial contracts in these communities, legally binding digital signatures would be whatever the members have agreed to accept, cognizant of the risks and without regard for whatever signing technologies and practices are accepted in other e-marketplaces. Digital signatures deliver critical authentication, tamperproofing and nonrepudiation services for legally enforceable transactions, so it's only a matter of time before they're adopted everywhere in the business-to-business arena. But it's doubtful that many business-to-business trading communities will rush to implement digital signatures without a flexible, general-purpose standards framework for applying and validating signatures on electronic documents. Fortunately, the standards community is well along in defining such a framework: XML Digital Signatures (XML-DSig). XML-DSig is a set of draft specifications that has considerable industry support where it counts: early vendor implementation and ongoing interoperability testing. What's most important, the XML-DSig framework is application-independent and supports signing of any content type, XML or non-XML, as long as that content can be addressed across the Internet, extranet or intranet via uniform resource identifiers (URI). XML-DSig defines procedures for binding cryptographic signatures to one or more URI-addressable local or network resource and for validating those signatures. XML-DSig also specifies an XML syntax for defining signature blocks that can be embedded in all content types. We will start to see commercial implementations of XML-DSig early next year. During this time frame, the World Wide Web Consortium and Internet Engineering Task Force, which are jointly shepherding the XML-DSig initiative, are expected to finalize and then ratify the standards. The XML-DSig initiative won't directly address any of the thorny cultural, commercial and legal issues surrounding the notion of electronic signatures, but it will help to clarify the technical contours of the "generally accepted signing practices" that we may begin to take for granted in a few years.
  • Airlines Turn to XML to Fix E-Ticket Transfer Problems

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 7:48 pm

    ORLANDO -- The top U.S. airlines have decided to try to fix the clunky links among their individual electronic-ticketing systems in an effort to avoid a repetition of the summer's long lines of stranded passengers looking to convert an airline's electronic ticket to a paper ticket that will be honored by another carrier. Jim Young, managing director for cost measurement and distribution strategy at Continental Airlines Inc. in Houston, said an XML-based standard for sharing electronic-ticket information is being developed by the OpenTravel Alliance (OTA), a travel-industry trade association in Alexandria, Va. Young is chairman of the OTA, which includes all the leading international airlines, computerized reservations systems and hotel chains. At the eTravelWorld conference in Orlando last week, Young said the OTA is looking to fast-track the XML interoperability standard. A draft of the standard is expected by year's end. Young said a finished version could be in place before next summer's travel season starts. Currently, a passenger who has an electronic ticket has to convert to a paper ticket from his initial airline if his flight has been canceled and he wishes to switch to another carrier. Airline employees must also fill out a handwritten "flight interruption manifest" for each ticketholder who's looking to rebook elsewhere. With an XML standard, Young said, a passenger's electronic ticket could automatically be transferred to another airline's system. "We want to create an environment where we're treating our electronic customers better than our paper-ticket customers, which is certainly the opposite of what it is today," Young said. Al Lenza, vice president of distribution planning at Minneapolis-based Northwest Airlines Inc., said 67% of his company's domestic fliers use electronic tickets - making it imperative that the transferability problem be solved. At the conference, executives from Chicago-based United Air Lines Inc. and Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines Inc. also pledged their commitment to fixing the problem.

    In a separate attempt to solve the problem, IBM just completed a centralized database that air carriers can share to handle electronic-ticket transfers, though the company has yet to sign up subscribers. One strength of the centralized system would be that airlines could work in hosted environments that obey their business rules, without making major changes to their in-house technology, said Patti Jones, IBM's vice president for global travel distribution. The centralized system would also provide flight availability information for other carriers. Young noted that the IBM system wouldn't eliminate the need for airline workers to fill out paperwork. The XML standard would leverage technology being put into use at every major airline, he added. Young acknowledged that the constant stress put on the air transit system this summer helped persuade airlines to seek a long-term fix to the problem of transferring electronic tickets. The record number of cancellations "was horrible for the industry, and it did actually create a lot of impetus to do this," Young said. "We need to find a way to make [transferring electronic tickets] easier for our passengers and for ourselves."

  • Microsoft, IBM release directory specs

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 7:46 pm

    IBM and Microsoft have developed a language standard for the new Universal Description, Discovery and Integration business directory, which is designed to fuel business-to-business commerce. The standard, called Web Services Description Language (WSDL), is a mixture of both IBM's Network Accessible Services Specification Language and Microsoft's Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) contract language. SOAP is an open standards-based interoperability protocol that uses XML to provide a common messaging format to link together applications and services anywhere on the Internet regardless of operating system, object model or programming language. The companies are evaluating the appropriate path for submitting the specification to the industry as a draft for standardization. A coalition of 36 vendors and consultants are working on the UDDI business directory, which, at its core, will be an XML-based holding tank for what businesses do, the services they offer and how they interface with their computing systems. The registry announced in early September is expected to support a number of APIs for gathering and offering information. There will be three initial versions of the registry as it gradually becomes more elaborate. It initially will provide basic information and later will offer more detailed company information, such as how to deal with a specific business unit. Ariba, along with IBM and Microsoft, launched the UDDI business directory, which will be built on TCP/IP, HTML and XML. Beta testing is expected to begin sometime in October.

    The WSDL specification will be posted on the IBM Web site at http://www-4.ibm.com/software/ developer/library/w-wsdl.html?dwzone=web/. It also can be viewed at http://msdn.microsoft.com/xml/general/wsdl.asp/. More information can be found on the UDDI initiative at http://www.uddi.org .

    IBM, in Armonk, N.Y., can be reached at 914-499-1900 or at http://www.ibm.com/. Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash., can be reached at 425-882-8080, or at http://www.microsoft.com/.

  • XML-EDI translations get boost

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 7:43 pm

    XMLSOLUTIONS NEXT week will announce its XMLSolutions Business Integration Platform for converting legacy data to Web formats XMLSolutions, based in McLean, Va., is a company whose potential impact on e-business may be best measured by the fact that its new CEO, Ron Shelby, was lured from General Motors, where he was CIO. "There's an opportunity, especially on the direct materials [procurement] side, to be a player with a significant piece of software," Shelby said. The platform is a universal interpreter that one analyst likened to the Star Trek universal language translator. XMLSolutions' platform can translate, in either direction, any version of EDI (electronic data interchange) to any version of XML, giving immediate access to data regardless of format. The cost savings to companies trying to contain escalating re-engineering expenditures as they go online with new procurement systems will be significant, according to analyst Ken Volmer, research director at Giga Information Group, in Cambridge, Mass. "It makes the whole body of work done in the last 20 years in developing the EDI data dictionaries available in the Internet world," Volmer said. What the XMLSolutions platform will do is automate the mapping of meta data (the coded name for data fields) from one format to another. For example, in a two-step process, the software describes a particular field, such as "part price," by taking that field description and representing it as an XML structure. In the second step, it reformats the XML structure into the particular version of XML being used, such as cXML. The system stores all EDI and XML standards and builds mappings between them as if they were native on either end, according to Shelby. Speeding the integration of legacy systems to Web-enabled systems is a long-sought goal, and according to a source within General Motors, the platform will allow the company to do things on the business-to-business side that "were not economically feasible," he said. "Effectively, some of our applications were locked out from using our own data," said the source, who requested anonymity. Generating automated XML linkages will reduce conversion costs for GM by about a third of what it would have cost using a process of direct mapping from each legacy system to XML, according to Shelby. With an estimated 300,000 top companies using some form of EDI, the benefits of a universal translator will accrue to large enterprises as well as small and midsize companies. These businesses which are just now joining the 21st century with Web-enabled procurement systems will be able to do business with some of the world's largest companies still using EDI, according to Giga's Volmer. XMLSolutions currently is lining up some major industrial giants that will be using its technology. In addition to General Motors, the company will be deploying its platform to a consortium of petrochemical companies to build a digital clearinghouse for accounts receivable and payable and all business processes connected to the shipment of direct goods. A large rail company will also deploy the platform to convert its legacy systems to XML for logistics. GM will use the system to convert legacy systems to work with its exchange built on the Commerce One platform to speed the process of procuring direct materials, according to the GM source.

    Taking data to the Web

    Converting EDI to XML offers benefits to companies. * Single platform for managing business relationships * Leverages existing technology investments, reduces time to market * Targets vertical implementations for specific industries * Aids in globalization by working in any worldwide EDI standard
  • Dharma Upgrades Integration Tools

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 7:37 pm

    Officials at the Nashua, N.H.-based company said eUnify 3.0 is designed to simplify the process of integrating legacy databases and applications with Web-based transaction systems.

    EUnify 3.0, which was released earlier this month, allows developers to access both legacy applications and databases, using SQL queries. Previously, eUnify users had only Open Database Connectivity and Java Database Connectivity interfaces. The new system also gives users access to SAP AG and IBM OS/390 and AS/400 applications through a Java interface. XML support has also been added to describe the return data that's extrapolated from legacy applications. Dharma officials said data returned from legacy systems is described with metadata tables that define the data after it gets transformed across application environments.

    Welcome Addition

    The additional XML and legacy application support delivered by eUnify is a welcome boost to the application integration tools market, analysts said. But while Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Vitria Technology Inc., a Dharma competitor, is one of several vendors that already provides solid support for data transformation, most companies in this space still need to improve the way they describe return data, said Dan Sholler, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group Inc. Using XML-based data structures and a set of Java interfaces to access legacy systems is an important new enhancement to eUnify, said J. Sasidhar, president of Dharma, because it allows developers to utilize business logic from other applications. For example, using eUnify tools, a Web site could capture business rules from an SAP credit-check application and make use of those capabilities, Sasidhar explained. Standards-based database drivers offer a uniform way to access data, but integration tools must also support heterogeneous data sources, according to Sholler.
  • Business Components for Java provides Linux development options

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 7:34 pm

    Talk to any recycling expert, and they'll speak about the "inherent economy" -- that is, reusing existing materials instead of creating new materials from scratch. The same principle applies to application development. A programming tool that allows you to build reusable modules and business components can dramatically reduce your development times, letting you bring new applications to market faster. That's the kind of tool Oracle's Business Components for Java (BC4J) is. Recently ported to Linux, BC4J offers a standards-based, server-side Java and XML framework for developers who must build and deploy reusable business components for high-performance Internet applications, such as e-commerce and business-to-business systems. In our tests, BC4J acquitted itself nicely, proving to be a powerful ally to Linux developers who must create n-tier Internet applications and connect them to Oracle databases. Applications created using BC4J are comprised of five basic framework components: entity objects, associations, view objects, view links, and application modules. Each component is interrelated, meaning you can establish views into database tables and join, filter, and sort data as needed. Using the Business Components wizard in JDeveloper, we tested BC4J by automatically generating all the components needed to create a simple order entry system. We could then quickly repurpose several of the entity objects to create a simple RMA (Return to Manufacturer Authorization) system supporting order returns. We were impressed by how quickly we could access back-end data stores, as well as BC4J's built-in validation capabilities (which let us establish rules to prevent users from entering invalid values into the database). Each component we created was represented by an XML file and one or more Java files. As you might expect, the XML files store metadata, while the Java files store the object code that facilitates an application's actions. Java developers will quickly recognize that each BC4J component is organized using familiar directory-based semantics. Ultimately, this type of separation greatly enhances your ability to customize and extend business logic, without forcing you to focus on code changes. Once created in the BC4J editor, applications can be deployed as either CORBA server objects or Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) session beans on any server platforms that support Java. Using the included testing tool, we could quickly put our business logic through its pace from within the development environment. You get several testing options; for instance, you can deploy the component as a CORBA or EJB object inside Oracle 8i, or you can simply connect to the Application module locally. Based on our tests and the tight integration between BC4J, JDeveloper, and Oracle's flagship database products, BC4J is an integral part of Oracle's JDeveloper IDE, which, in turn, is part of the overarching Internet Development Suite), it's clear that BC4J would be most effective if you were to operate in an all-Oracle environment. But even if that's not the case, Linux developers looking to level the playing field with their Windows and Solaris counterparts would do well to take BC4J out for a test run.

    Technology Analyst Todd Coopee (todd_coopee@infoworld.com) believes in recycling cans, bottles, newspapers, and e-commerce business components.

  • Microsoft's BizTalk hits beta

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 7:32 pm

    Microsoft on Monday released the first beta of BizTalk Server 2000, which is designed to integrate applications and business partner networks using XML. BizTalk is the last server to go into beta testing of the seven servers that will make up Microsoft's .Net server lineup. The .Net initiative was announced in June as the company's push for making the Internet the center of its infrastructure servers. BizTalk is focused on e-commerce with the goal of allowing companies to connect applications across platforms and business partners across the Internet. It is designed to translate data formats into XML Messages, and route the messages between applications and corporate networks. Critics are watching closely as Microsoft attempts this back-end integration of Microsoft and non-Microsoft platforms, an area that has never been the company's primary focus. Microsoft hopes to pit BizTalk against IBM's WebSphere application server and WebMethods' B2B line of integration software. A key feature of the BizTalk beta is a technology Microsoft debuted in June called Orchestration, a graphical tool for defining business processes and modeling them into a workflow such as an approval cycle for a purchase order. The Orchestration tool was added to BizTalk after a preview of the server was released to a select group of testers in April. The beta released Monday, which Microsoft says is feature-complete, adds Orchestration as one of the fundamental technologies for the .Net platform. "Orchestration is the second step in the integration puzzle," says Dave Wascha, product manager for BizTalk. "Once we get the XML tags that can talk, we need to be able to tell them what to do." Besides Orchestration, BizTalk features five other key tools: BizTalk Editor, for defining the structure of data; Mapper, for detailing how data will be translated; Management Desk, for tracking data and details of trading deals with business partners; Administrative Tool, for managing the BizTalk Server; and Document Tracking Tool, a data-mining feature. Besides XML, BizTalk supports a number of transport and other protocols including electronic data interchange, HTTP, HTTPS, SMTP, Microsoft Message Queue Server and flat-file transfer. BizTalk also supports secure document delivery based on public-key encryption and digital signatures, and a guaranteed once-and-only-once delivery of documents. The success of BizTalk will be key for Microsoft as it tries to capture market share for business-to-business e-commerce. Earlier this month, Microsoft set up a .Net Enterprise Server Division, which will be led by Senior Vice President Paul Flessner. The division will oversee the development of BizTalk, as well as Exchange 2000 Server, SQL Server 2000, Application Center 2000, Host Integration Server 2000, Commerce Server 2000, and Internet Security and Acceleration Server 2000.
  • Apache jump-starts XML's implementation

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 7:30 pm

    YOU ALREADY know that XML is a smart investment because it promises to improve content management while reducing administration costs, which are especially important in business-to-business e-commerce and other e-business processes. But how do you get your developers moving forward with XML so you can implement an XML-based e-business strategy rapidly? The folks at The Apache Software Foundation (formerly known as Apache Group and creators of the popular Apache Web server) believe they have the answer: Meld XML implementation with open-source development paradigms. By leveraging the speed of open-source development and Apache's link with the standards bodies that are defining XML, companies can be on the fast track to implementing this leading-edge technology. Apache's XML Project (xml.apache.org) was launched last fall with contributions from the open-source community as well as leading industry participants, such as Sun Microsystems and IBM. The project has three core goals that will translate into a competitive edge for companies that take advantage of the project.

    According to the project's Web site, the first objective is to create "commercial-quality, standards-based XML solutions that are developed in an open and cooperative fashion." The second goal is to provide feedback on XML implementations to standards bodies, such as the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C (www.w3c.org/xml). Lastly, the group expects to provide XML resources for other Apache projects.

    Apache's plans will widen the adoption of XML and speed up the process of implementing the standard, which will benefit businesses that plan to implement XML as a core part of their e-business strategies.

    In an unusual move, several commercial vendors and open-source XML developers have contributed technologies to the project, hoping to help put XML on the fast track. For example, IBM (alphaworks.ibm.com) contributed its XML parser technology for Java and C++; the parser reads and validates XML documents. Also, Sun Microsystems (www.sun.com/xml) contributed its XML parser and validation technology.

    In addition, Lotus Development (www.lotus.com/home.nsf/welcome/xml) offered the code for its XSLT (Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformation). XSLT is useful for reorganizing XML documents from one format to another. DataChannel contributed its Xpages technology, which helps developers build XML applications that integrate data from disparate sources.

    Several key contributions have come from leading members of the open-source community as well. For example, formatting objects, or FOP, as it's called, contributed by James Tauber, is the first tool to help developers use XSL's (Extensible Stylesheet Language) formatting objects to create PDF output. Cocoon, built by Stefano Mazzocchi and Java-Apache developers, supports XML publishing, while Assaf Arkin and Exoffice added a Java framework for XML applications. Keith Visco wrote an open-source XSL processor.

    What does it matter?

    Apache's XML Project will be good not only for e-business applications but also for XML as a standard. The fact that these XML tools are being developed cooperatively will hasten the implementation of useful tools that developers -- commercial and open-source -- can use to build XML-related business applications more easily. And the interaction with the standards bodies will help push the development of the XML standard onto the fast track (see "New standards orbit XML"). Apache is combining all of these contributions and subsequent additions and enhancements into one group of tools that will provide a comprehensive solution for companies that need to implement an XML-based strategy. Developers can download Apache's free XML tools now at xml.apache.org/dist and can view and modify the source code. The Apache XML Project folks encourage developers to contribute to the project, so if a developer customizes a function or adds a feature to the tools, she or he might wish to submit the code changes to Apache and make them available to others.

    Wrapped in a Cocoon

    We spent some time examining Cocoon, one of the Apache Project's XML tools. This Java publishing framework makes it easy to manage Web site content. It allows developers to put application logic, presentation attributes, and content in separate XML files, and then Cocoon uses XSLT to merge the files. The only real issue we see with Apache's XML Project is that it does not have the documentation necessary for someone new to XML technologies. But the tools have enough information for experienced developers. It might be a good idea for the folks involved in the Apache XML Project to compile an online resource library that contains links to various XML-related resources, particularly tutorial materials. Because XML is still considered an emerging technology, many developers will need plenty of time and resources at their disposal in order to get up to speed. Otherwise, Cocoon is solid enough for developers to jump into now.Apache is making good progress on integrating the contributions it has received to date while also adding and enhancing the tools within its XML solution. The Apache XML project also includes SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), an implementation of a lightweight protocol that helps organizations exchange data distributed across platforms (see "SOAP is key to cleaning up dirty application integration between business partners"). Businesses can gain a lot from Apache's XML Project and its open-source development practices. The cooperative effort combined with standards body interchange will speed XML implementations. And companies can leverage the project to help developers get up to speed quickly with XML technologies. Corporate developers can easily obtain and work with these tools as they seek to implement e-business XML strategies. Apache's XML efforts also will help commercial providers as they seek to implement other commercial solutions that support XML strategies. The net result will be solid implementations that help companies improve content management practices while reducing administration costs.
  • Tibco buys Extensibility

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 7:27 pm

    FURTHERING ITS XML strategy, e-business infrastructure provider Tibco Software, based in Palo Alto, Calif., this week agreed to buy Chapel Hill, N.C.-based Extensibility, an XML software company. "The most valuable resource Tibco acquired is people," said Kimberly Knickle, a research director at AMR Research, in Boston. "They needed the expertise, not just in products but in the people." Jon Derome, a senior analyst at The Yankee Group, in Boston, said that Extensibility will help bring an XML focus to Tibco. "Prior to Extensibility, there was no central point of responsibility, no single group concentrating on XML," said Fred Meyer, Tibco's vice president of product management. The product lines are also complimentary because Tibco doesn't have some of the products that Extensibility has, such as an XML server. Tibco plans to incorporate Extensibility's technology, which is used to design XML schemas that enable e-businesses to create and exchange digital documents and validate electronic commerce transactions into its own products. Meyer said that combining Extensiblity's technology with its own XML and schema management capabilities will enable customers to create new types of software applications for conducting business over the Internet. Tibco also will continue to market and enhance stand-alone versions of Extensibility's products. Yankee Group's Derome also said that the companies' selling practices will help Tibco expand the breadth of its market because Tibco aims for the high-end and Extensibility markets itself via the Web and telemarketing. "This takes the Tibco brand down to the mid-market, which is important because they were pushing into that market, but were unsuccessful," he said.
  • Metadirectory Products Shipped

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 7:19 pm

    Novell Inc. and Microsoft Corp. both delivered key metadirectory products last week. Novell rolled out its long-anticipated DirXML, while Microsoft released Microsoft Metadirectory Services (MMS) 2.2. Metadirectories synchronize information among directories, centralizing control of user identity for administrators. Such "products are critical to directories because very few enterprises are standardizing on any one directory product," said Michael Hoch, an analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston. DirXML and MMS 2.2 will be available only as part of consultancy agreements. "The whole metadirectory function is so complicated that you need a consultant to install it," said Hoch. DirXML, which requires Novell Directory Services (NDS) eDirectory, converts directory information into XML. Michael Dortch, an analyst at Robert Frances Group in San Francisco, said DirXML has an advantage over competitors because XML is emerging as the standard for data interchange and many applications are expected to be able to read XML data. "It's becoming the lingua franca," said Dortch. By contrast, Microsoft must overcome user skepticism, he said. "The question really becomes, if you are living in a heterogeneous environment, do you trust Microsoft to handle the other environments as equals?" Dortch said. MMS 2.2, which is based on technology Microsoft acquired from Zoomit Corp. last year, is the first MMS version to be integrated with Active Directory. Dortch said he believes it will take another 12 to 18 months before Active Directory becomes widely adopted.

    Moving Away From NetWare

    Michael Brown, director of technology at Yellow Transportation LLC in Denver, addressed directory synchronization by moving off NetWare and implementing an all-Microsoft network with Windows NT and SQL Server. "It's a shame, because Novell has a more robust directory," said Brown. However, the market momentum is behind Microsoft, making a move off NetWare and NDS "an inevitability," he said. Separately, NetVision Inc., an Orem, Utah-based vendor of directory synchronization tools, said it would give away a basic version of its Synchronicity software and charge for services. NetVision is considered to be more limited than DirXML but easier to use. Novell also introduced last week two single sign-on systems based on NDS eDirectory: NDS Authentication Services 3.0 and a new bundle of Novell Single Sign-on 2.0 with the v-Go client-based software from Passlogix Inc. "It's amazingly easy to implement," said Tom Davis, senior security coordinator at Indianapolis Power & Light Co., who has been beta-testing the Passlogix and Novell bundle.
  • Packeteer centralizes policy management

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 7:14 pm

    Packeteer this week announced new centralized policy management and operating system software for its bandwidth management devices that the company says lets users more easily deploy and scale quality-of-service management routines. The policy management software, PolicyCenter, offers centralized policy management for Packeteer devices running the company's new operating system software, PacketWise 5.0. Those devices include the company's PacketShaper and AppVantage bandwidth management and traffic classification products, which sit between routers and LAN segments and apply TCP rate-based, flow-control policies to individual traffic flows and classes of flows based on Layer 4 to 7 packet information. PolicyCenter is a stand-alone Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) directory-enabled application that runs under Windows NT. It lets customers centrally administer and update PacketShaper and AppVantage policies, software versions and device status for Packeteer-based networks. PolicyCenter includes a common policy-configuration user interface with PacketShaper and AppVantage, which means that users won't have to learn a new interface to configure other Packeteer devices. For users with multivendor policy management systems, PolicyCenter includes an XML-based management API to ease integration. This API enables the exchange of application and user performance data with other centralized policy management, reporting, billing and subscriber management systems, Packeteer says. Packeteer has already established XML interoperability with Hewlett-Packard PolicyXpert, InfoVista and Portal Software. The firm is working on integration with other vendors. Analysts say the interoperability achieved through XML is very rudimentary. "These management products are using it in very vendor-specific ways," says Dave Passmore, research director at The Burton Group in Sterling, Va. "We still need a common directory and schema and a common XML dialect, such as the Directory Services Markup Language, before much in the way of multivendor interoperability will be achieved." Packeteer says PolicyCenter's LDAP support also will enable integration with other directory-resident information for policy configuration. PolicyCenter Server for PacketWise 5.0 will be available later this quarter at a cost of $6,000. PacketWise XML API is free with PacketWise 5.0 software, a new version of the operating system for PacketShaper and AppVantage that also debuted last week. PacketWise 5.0 also includes a high-availability option for high-traffic nets, enhanced classification capabilities and support for 25 new applications. Among the applications it can discover and classify are Attachmate, Citrix VideoFrame and Napster. PacketWise 5.0 also supports a new dual-port Ethernet interface card for PacketShaper and AppVantage that lets users deploy a single device in remote sites with WAN routers supporting multiple LAN segments. Until now, users were required to deploy multiple units in these sites. The software's high-availability option provides support for automatic failover to a secondary Packeteer device for high-traffic environments. Enhanced classification includes "http sub-classification," which classifies applications according to HTTP 1.1 host name, browser type, or content type. This lets network professionals more easily determine which applications are malicious or hostile, Packeteer says. A free upgrade to PacketWise 5.0 is available now to PacketShaper and AppVantage customers with a current maintenance contract. April Jacobs contributed to this story.
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