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.