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Application development news, tools, and how-tos for programmers
  • Log shipping in a nutshell

    Posted January 27, 2001 - 1:49 pm

    A standard way to provide for database-server disaster recovery is to prepare a standby server -- a secondary database-server computer that maintains a somewhat current version of your production database. If your production server fails, the standby server takes its place. A standby server that keeps up-to-the-minute data by receiving updates almost in realtime is referred to as a warm standby.

  • SQL Server 2000's new Query Analyzer

    Posted January 27, 2001 - 1:28 pm

    The primary purpose of the Query Analyzer (QA) has always been to provide users with immediate feedback about their Transact-SQL commands. Prior to its current incarnation in Windows 2000, the QA was really just a graphical version of the "interactive SQL" tool, isql.exe. As such, its editing components were comparatively undeveloped.
  • SQL Server 2000: Performance and price on the rise

    Posted January 27, 2001 - 1:18 pm

    During the last few weeks, two events important to the SQL Server community have transpired. First, Microsoft announced SQL Server 2000 pricing. Second, the company withdrew its record-breaking TPC-C benchmark results, later submitting new numbers.
  • SQL Trace: Back again, and better than ever

    Posted January 27, 2001 - 1:11 pm

    One of the more essential SQL Server tools is its trace utility. With it you can view the activity occurring against a SQL Server for diagnostic, informational, and other purposes. Because it lets you see exactly what commands are being sent to a server by its clients, tracing is also a useful test tool.
  • Recent Microsoft news

    Posted January 27, 2001 - 1:10 pm

    Service Pack 2 fixes 500 known issues with Windows 2000 and Service Pack 1. It also enables 128-bit key encryption outside the U.S. No new features are included in this update, however. 5/17/01Computerworld

  • Spreading the word on XHTML

    Posted January 27, 2001 - 12:02 am

    A new standard is promising to smooth the transition from HTML to XML. XHTML is a blending of HTML and XML. The first iteration, XHTML Version 1.0, lets Web sites migrate to XML while allowing their content to remain visible in old browsers.
  • Apache Software Foundation launches XML open-source project

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 11:59 pm

    The nonprofit industry group that provides organizational support for the freely available Apache Web server is taking on a new project intended to make XML part of the open-source movement.
  • World Wide Web Consortium combines HTML, XML into XHTML

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 11:57 pm

    The W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) on Wednesday recommended use of XHTML (Extensible HTML) 1.0 specification to expand the use of XML (Extensible Markup Language) without making existing HTML elements obsolete.
  • Coalition proposes standard to foster B2B commerce

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 11:54 pm

    A coalition of 36 vendors and consultants led by IBM, Microsoft and Ariba today announced the framework for a new standard designed to ignite business-to-business electronic commerce. The partners introduced the Universal Description, Discovery and Integration Project (UDDI), an online worldwide business registry that will live on the Web. The three leaders of the project, who have been working on UDDI for six months, say it will provide the foundation for companies to conduct business with each other over the Internet. The core of the framework is the UDDI Business Registry, an XML-based repository where businesses can list who they are, what services they offer and how to interface with their computing systems. UDDI provides a standard way for businesses to describe details about themselves in those three areas. The registry will support a number of application program interfaces (APIs) for soliciting information and contributing information. Those APIs will be based on the Simple Object Access Protocol and will be built into vendors' products. For example, IBM plans to integrate the APIs in Websphere and Microsoft plans to use them in its server software. The goal is to make integration of business systems, which happens today using expensive EDI technology, cheaper, faster and easier. The UDDI framework is built on TCP/IP, HTML and XML and supporters hope to turn their work over to a standards body in 18 months. However, the first three registries, which will be run by IBM, Microsoft and Ariba, are expected to go into beta in 30 days. The registries will be interconnected much like today's Domain Name Service (DNS) on the Internet, which provides a way for computers to locate one another. "The new shape of business is the electronic marketplace and there is a need for a system where partners can discover each others interfaces," says Jim Kobielus, an analyst with The Burton Group in Midvale, Utah. "It means tighter integration without a lot of work having to be done between IS departments." Over the past 18 months, XML has been the focus for electronic commerce and business integration but most of the work has focused on using the data description technology for vertical industries. Today there are thousands of business marketplaces on the Web, many of which are supported by vendors that have joined in the UDDI Project, including WebMethods and CommerceOne. But the UDDI effort plans to be a ubiquitous directory providing access to any and all businesses on the Web and not focused on one particular industry. The project, backers say, will provide a springboard for all electronic commerce. The scale of the project, "will lower the cost of transactions, accelerate the value of B2B commerce and is the only way to meet industry projections for the growth of B2B into the trillions of dollars," says Larry Mueller, president and CEO of Ariba. The group says it will take small steps at first and hope that industry momentum carries UDDI forward. "We will solve some key problems first, learn as we go and take input for improvement from many people," says Paul Maritz, group vice president of the platforms group at Microsoft. "We tried to first tackle basic, obvious problems -- how to categorize businesses, how to find them and how they advertise their services." The UDDI group plans three releases of the framework, which includes a white pages, yellow pages and green pages. The white pages is where businesses describe themselves and list contact information. The yellow pages will list businesses by industry, product and services, and location. The green pages is where businesses will provide information on how to integrate with their business processes and services. The first version of UDDI will be just basic information, but subsequent versions will include more detailed information such as how to deal with specific business units or follow strict workflow guidelines. The second version of the UDDI framework is due March 2001 and the third version is expected in December of the same year. The UDDI members do not plan to charge for use of the directory. IBM, Microsoft and Ariba are each funding their own UDDI implementations. Other companies participating in the effort include American Express, Andersen Consulting, Bowstreet, Dell, Nortel Networks, SAP, Sun Microsystems and VeriSign.
  • XML-to-EDI links forged

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 11:46 pm

    BLUESTONE SOFTWARE, IN Philadelphia, and XML Solutions, in Mclean, Va., have aligned to enable the real-time exchange of data between EDI (electronic data interchange) and XML-based systems. "The solution is a common bridge from XML documents to the old EDI," said John Capobianco, executive vice president at Bluestone. "It can expand the scope of communication by using XML as a standard vehicle [for data exchange]." The integration of Bluestone's Total-e-B2B e-business Integration Server with XML Solutions' XEDI Translator and Schema Central will enable companies with EDI systems, which previously communicated only with other EDI systems, to conduct business with partners using XML. Beyond EDI-to-XML data exchange, Bluestone and XML Solutions aim to provide a means for companies to exchange XML-to-XML and schema-to-schema data, according to Capobianco. "This doesn't take the place of EDI. EDI works, there's no need to replace it, but everything that companies build today, they'll probably build in the new Internet environment," Capobianco said.
  • XML standard for electronic news released

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 11:43 pm

    The International Press Telecommunications Council (IPTC) approved on Monday the public release of a standard based on Extensible Markup Language (XML) to simplify the delivery, creation and retrieval of news in electronic formats.
  • Financiers Aim to Unify XML Standards

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 11:40 pm

    A new financial services industry group is trying to weed through two dozen existing XML-based financial standards to come up with one universal lexicon. The XML ISO 15022 Committee Advisory Group was established June 20. It was created to map conflicts among the existing lexicons and to make a recommendation to the International Organization for Standards in Geneva by year's end. "It's a big list," said John Goeller, director of electronic trading at Salomon Smith Barney Holdings Inc. in New York and the committee's chairman. Goeller said the emerging XML standards fall into two categories -- those that cover transactions such as stock purchases and those that help in the research of companies. For example, Open Financial Exchange (OFX) lets financial institutions communicate with customers about online banking, bill presentment and payment and investments. On the research side, Financial Business Reporting Language standardizes the way companies publish financial reports, which could make it easier for analysts or investors to compare profits and losses of publicly traded companies. Although these standards are based on XML and overlap when it comes to content, they address different concerns, are backed by different groups and cover different types of data. In addition, old standards like OFX are being converted to XML. Standards also differ based on their origins, according to Dushyant Shahrawat, an analyst at Needham, Mass.-based TowerGroup. The ones most likely to survive are backed by industry groups, he said. Financial Information Exchange Markup Language, for example, is being developed by the Technical Committee of U.K.-based FIX Protocol Ltd., a consortium of more than 20 financial firms. Other standards are backed by smaller groups. Financial XML, for example, was released by Integral Corp. in Palo Alto, Calif., and is backed by Sun Microsystems Inc. and Chase Manhattan Corp in New York.
  • Consortium brings XML Schema closer to standard

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 11:31 pm

    The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) on Tuesday declared the XML Schema as a candidate for recommendation to become a standard.
  • Microsoft XML tech no standards shoo-in

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 11:28 pm

    The World Wide Web Consortium has created a working group to develop an XML-based messaging protocol, and the international standards body says it won't rubber-stamp Microsoft's Simple Object Access Protocol as some vendors had hoped. The W3C's XML Protocol Working Group will develop a common way for Web applications to communicate with each other in an automated fashion using XML-encoded messages. An anticipated feature of the next-generation Web, XML is a simple, flexible text format designed for large-scale electronic publishing. Having an XML-based messaging protocol is considered critical for the development of business-to-business Internet applications. For example, such a protocol would enable a company's Web site to get a real-time stock quote from a financial Web site without the two Web sites sharing the same operating system, application software or programming language. Microsoft is pushing Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) as the solution to this Internet communications problem. Last May, a group of 11 companies - including Microsoft, IBM, Compaq and Hewlett-Packard - submitted SOAP 1.1 to the W3C for consideration as a standards-track document. Instead of creating a SOAP working group, the W3C broadened the scope of the effort. The W3C established an XML Protocol Activity as an umbrella group and chartered one working group to develop a simple XML-based messaging format. Other XML protocol development efforts in areas such as security can be added later. "This is not an attempt to standardize SOAP," says David Fallside, leader of the W3C working group and a senior technical staff member at IBM. "The group is going to create a requirements document to itemize the points that we feel strongly about. We'll look at SOAP 1.1 as a potential solution, but if we think we can come up with a better way, we will." Fallside says the XML Protocol Working Group will coordinate its efforts with the Internet Engineering Task Force, which oversees transport mechanisms such as HTTP, and ebXML, which is developing e-commerce standards for the United Nations. "There's a lot of interest in XML remote procedure calls such as SOAP," Fallside says. "The Web community needs a fairly simple way of enabling peer-to-peer Web applications to communicate. Right now, communication is primarily between Web browsers and Web servers." The XML Protocol Working Group will host its first face-to-face meeting in October, with an initial working draft of the protocol due next January.
  • Web publishing future hinges on XML

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 11:19 pm

    XML is central to the future of Web publishing, executives from major vendors in that market said during speeches at the Seybold Seminars Publishing 2000 conference, where companies are pledging broader product support for XML in future releases. XML is a specification from the World Wide Web Consortium that allows Web authors to define custom tags and attributes, enabling XML documents to include metadata, or information about document content. Many vendors, Web designers and programmers point to XML as a superior method of exchanging data over the Internet because its use does not require standardized interfaces or specific programming tools. Such an agnostic language ultimately could lead to a drop in the cost of Web publishing by 30% to 50% and a significant reduction in the time it takes to produce sites, according to Tim Gill, chairman and chief technical officer of Quark and one of the speakers during a special keynote presentation this week. XML further gives the Web an advantage over traditional print, he suggested. "I don't believe that there is any innovation in print that is going to save us even 10% in costs," he said, adding that this is a key reason why venture capitalists have fled from traditional print and are swarming to provide funding to Web publishers. Gill was quick to add that he is not suggesting that traditional print is unimportant or will not last, but the cost savings that will accrue to Web publishers with what he called the "wholesale adoption of XML" will create opportunities for companies to make money through Internet publishing. Companies will be more easily able to resell their own content as well as to buy and use content from other Web publishers. The Web further allows anyone who wants to post content to become a publisher, he said. A big theme here this week is that successful Web publishers will make their sites more interactive, with plenty of reader input, and also will offer graphically interesting sites that load quickly. The explosion in Internet access devices other than PCs also is a factor, with vendors showing off products that enable handhelds and the like to access and display more than just simple text. For instance, Adobe Systems and Palm Computing said they would integrate Adobe Portable Definition Format (PDF) technologies into the Palm platform. As a result, Palm users will be able to use their devices for electronic books and a wider range of documents. Adobe officials showed off a number of new technologies and upcoming products during the special keynote session Wednesday, including a server software project codenamed Stilton, which allows Web publishers to remotely manage their work flow, according to Bruce Chizen, executive vice president of worldwide products and marketing for Adobe. Chizen appeared onstage with Adobe CEO and Chairman John Warnock. The Stilton demo inadvertently gave the audience a preview of a security feature that shuts down the software when a computer is idle for an hour. The Adobe crew took the stage last during the presentations today, so their laptops had been sitting for longer than 60 minutes. It took a bit of time for the demo to get up and running, but when it was finally working properly, Adobe employees showed how it would work with other products, including InDesign, Acrobat and InProduction, due out by next month. InProduction is aimed at linking design creation and Adobe PDF output, allowing users to control color separations and conversions, trim, bleed and trap parameters, and to check for preproduction PDF glitches. Adobe officials also showed off an upcoming Web animation tool called LiveMotion that is supposed to make it much easier for Web authors to animate their sites. Although specifics were not provided regarding availability and pricing, Warnock said that the new products would be out soon.

    The Publishing 2000 conference and expo continues through Friday at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. More information is available at http://www.seyboldseminars.com/.

    Adobe, in San Jose, can be reached at 408-536-6000 or at http://www.adobe.com/. Quark, in Denver, can be reached at 303-894-8888 or at http://www.quark.com/.

  • B-To-B Hard to Spell with XML

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 11:16 pm

    Forget the multibillion-dollar market forecasts. For now, business-to-business e-commerce remains in search of a common framework to help companies efficiently execute transactions over the Internet. The promise lies in Extensible Markup Language, or XML, which companies can use to categorize and tag data for exchange between disparate technology systems. But reality bites. Corporate users must sift through an alphabet soup of technology frameworks and data definitions being worked on by sometimes competing clusters of standards and industry groups and vendors, with little chance of an electronic Esperanto surfacing anytime soon. "The challenge really is, at a certain point, to simplify. Once they've got these standards defined and stabilized, start converging them," said James Kobielus, an analyst at The Burton Group in Midvale, Utah. But Kobielus estimated that this convergence could take five to 10 years to settle into a concrete state, adding, "It's going to be a mess." Right now, at least a dozen vertical industries have groups working to define the types of documents they need to exchange and the various data elements that must be part of those documents.

    United Nations Involved

    Another emerging effort backed by several major industries is electronic-business XML (ebXML), which is being developed by a group that comprises members from the United Nations Centre for the Facilitation of Procedures and Practices for Administration, Commerce and Transport and the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards. The group hopes to complete some work in the next 18 months. "It holds the most promise for identifying the best-of-breed recommendations for XML interoperability," said Tom Warner, chairman of the Washington-based Aerospace Industries Association's e-commerce work group. He also pointed out that ebXML seeks to define repositories, registries, transport and packaging protocols, security mechanisms, architecture and business process models. Josh Walker, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., said new standards groups keep popping up. As they do, he said, "there's certainly confusion around what businesses are doing and what individual working groups are doing."

    For more detail on specific XML schema projects in the steel, insurance and travel business, click on the link below to read the full article.

  • Business-process XML schema planned

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 11:08 pm

    The Business Process Management Intiative (BPMI) was formed this week by 16 companies to define XML-based standards for the management of business processes that span heterogeneous applications, corporate departments, and business partners.
  • Tools vendors look to simplify XML implementation

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 11:05 pm

    STILL LOST IN MUCH of the hype surrounding e-commerce applications is the need for reliable, easily implemented application integration. But the stakes are high for developers and businesses. Online spending within e-communities will skyrocket to a whopping $1.2 trillion worldwide in 2004, according to estimates from Framingham, Mass.-based market research company IDC. As a result, IDC said that businesses have tremendous potential to increase their revenues through these communities. But for most companies, taking advantage of e-marketplaces will require integrating their e-business applications with the rest of their infrastructures and throughout the supply chain. Application integration isn't easy. When e-commerce applications, particularly those involving transactions worth thousands of dollars, are added to the scenario, things become more complex than they might already be. And getting it right is crucial. EDI (electronic data interchange) has worked in the past, but only for large companies with deep pockets, and its use had been limited primarily to interenterprise information exchanges. EDI is expensive, and the cost has plagued smaller companies. Typically, a large company with an EDI infrastructure will have smaller partners that may use a Web browser to access, for instance, supply-side data. Such a solution may suit that purpose, but it is not data integration. When the large retailer with EDI capabilities in place puts an order in to a third-or fourth-tier supplier that does not have an EDI system, the large retailer has no way of knowing if the supplier has the needed inventory in stock; in other words, there is no guarantee that the order will be filled. If the data is integrated between both companies, however, the retailer could access inventory data and, if the order cannot be filled immediately, request the inventory from a different supplier. "Companies want to be able to automate that data as deeply as they can, and to enable bidirectional integration into both companies," said Jon Derome, a senior analyst at the Yankee Group, in Boston. To help customers integrate their EDI and XML data, Denver-based New Era of Networks (NEON) last week announced its PaperFree EDI Adapter, which provides an easy connection between XML and EDI formats. Although EDI certainly isn't going away, the industry seems to have agreed on XML as the glue that bonds together disparate systems. "One of the big benefits of XML in e-commerce is that it is going to level the playing field and let smaller companies that don 't have EDI communicate with larger companies," said Chris Silva, associate research analyst at IDC. To help developers realize that level playing field, a number of vendors are making XML easier for developers to use. Compuware last week, for example, announced that its Uniface 8 supports XML, which the company claims extends development and deployment of multitier e-business applications. Uniface can be used to generate XML and valid DTDs (Document Type Definitions) on request. As a result, no XML skills or DTD knowledge are necessary for e-business application development, and organizations benefit from increased developer productivity, ease of maintenance, and reduced costs, according to the company. Uniface has traditionally used its own proprietary way of sending data streams. "XML is the logical next step to take to be able to move into a true business-to-business environment," said Franco Flore, senior product manager at Uniface. Flore continued that XML's benefits include that it's not very expensive, and that it is being accepted by developers. As a result of the first two benefits, XML is maturing quickly. This is the first of what Flore said will be a series of initiatives by Compuware to embrace XML. Universal Algorithms/CollegeNet, a Portland, Ore.-based portal designed to help students apply for college via the Web, uses Uniface to provide a Web component and database independence for an event scheduling application for classrooms, according to Andy Heydon, vice president of software development. "XML will definitely make it easier for us to facilitate the data transfer between our applications and sources of data," Heydon added. Compuware is not the only company making XML easier. ActionPoint, in San Jose, Calif., an e-commerce interaction management software provider, began shipping in mid-September an XML-based server that enables customers to deploy Web interfaces for real-time live interaction, Web content management, CRM (customer relationship management), middleware and business process automation, and e-marketing solutions, according to the company.
  • Novell delivers on its vision

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 11:03 pm

    ATLANTA -- Offering some tangible proof of its one Net vision heralded at its Brainshare conference last March, Novell at the NetWorld+Interop conference rolled out a series of products and features designed to unify disparate networks and services. Aimed at giving enterprises a more personalized and simplified way to use public and private networks, Novell Portal Services provides a single log-in and single point of access to user-specific information gathered from the Internet, intranets, and other networks. The application framework leverages XML to tie together applications, services, and information from different sources into a single portal interface that can be customized for a group or an individual user. Using XML lets the applications and services communicate and integrate with each other, according to Novell. NDS eDirectory provides the link to identity-based services that relay information specific to a user's job or need. For example, the portal services are different for salespeople, suppliers, customers, and executives. The Novell Portal Services SDK (software development kit), which lets developers create portal services gadgets that display a variety of content from Web services, is available now, with general availability starting by the end of the year. Novell also made several announcements pertaining to its directory technologies. The company announced general availability of DirXML 1.0, integration software that combines directory technology with XML to enable cross-platform and cross-network information exchange. In addition, Version 8.5 of eDirectory made its debut at the show packed with several new features. A feature called Filtered Replication offers a streamlined process of searching directory data for specific applications and makes it possible to host data from various applications on a single server, according to Ed Anderson, director of product management for Directory Services at Novell, in Provo, Utah. Another feature, iMonitor, is a browser-based monitoring tool that lets administrators keep tabs on directory activities from any browser. Rounding out the announcements, Linux vendor Red Hat said it will use Novell's NDS eDirectory and DirXML as the directory services infrastructure for Red Hat Network, an Internet service for managing networks of Red Hat Linux that was announced earlier this week.
  • Gates casts doubt on WAP future

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 11:01 pm

    WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) is splintered and should have followed Internet protocols more closely, but XML (Extensible Markup Language) will cover a multitude of sins as the Internet extends to mobile phones, says Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates. Microsoft's .NET strategy is heavily geared toward extending Internet presence to devices beyond the desktop PC, and the company has some key partnerships with carriers to develop mobile data solutions. So the software giant's view on the long-term viability of the WAP standard being pushed by Nokia Corp., L.M. Ericsson Telephone Co. and others is likely to be influential. At his media conference here Monday, Gates described issues with WAP as "one of those plumbing things that most of the world shouldn't have to be thinking about." "Because the mobile world tried to start doing data before the Internet really exploded, they got off on some standards that were fine, but they were just different to the Internet standards," says Gates. "So in the WAP world the way you describe a page of information is not done using HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), which is the way it's done in the PC world. And even some of the other layers are a little bit different." However, Gates says, "the magic of software" should be able to hide many differences. "What we've said is that it's very easy in a cellphone to have a microbrowser that can support not only WAP but also HTML and XML. Why do I bring up XML there? The key issue is, when a company wants to have a presence on the Internet, they don't want to have to build it once for the PC, once for the TV, once for the cellphone with a certain screen and once for the cellphone with another screen. "They want to write a Web application and then just at the last minute take the information that needs to be presented and say, okay do we pass it down as XML, which means a program at the other end can deal with it, or do we map it into one of these screen sizes and screen protocols-HTML or WAP or whatever? "By designing the Internet applications platform where the form that you plug into is just the last decision, we can simplify it so that Web site creators don't have to know all the details about which version of which cellphone happens to have which WAP commands. Because there isn't one WAP-there are multiple versions of WAP. Not only does the screen vary but how much of which kind of WAP commands they did varies quite considerably as well." Gates touts .NET as a way for developers to be able to write a Web application for the PC and easily be able to map it onto cellphone screens too. "It's one of those things that comes with the evolution of the industry. The wireless guys and the Internet guys coming together and creating standards-but without giving up the fact that there is a bunch of phones out there with WAP in them. You don't want to drop that, you want to embrace it. Microsoft has a kind of unification strategy that lets you get the best of all those things."
  • XML struggling for enterprise customer acceptance

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 10:55 pm

    Everyone loves XML, the technology that can be used to tag electronic document content for easy searching and sharing among business partners. Microsoft, IBM and a slew of e-commerce hotshots such as Commerce One and Ariba can't stop talking about XML as the foundation for Web-based commerce. Despite the fact that XML 1.0 debuted nearly three years ago as a World Wide Web Consortium standard, few businesses are using applications based on it, even though almost every e-commerce application vendor or network service claims to support XML.

    Building a new web

    Observers say vendors of e-commerce applications are largely to blame. Many vendors at the forefront of the XML revolution are working at cross-purposes in the way they implement XML, thus forcing users to convert purchase orders defined according to Ariba's XML specification, for instance, into purchase orders defined according to rival Commerce One's specifications. Users often end up paying a service provider to do this XML "dialect" conversion, which adds to the cost. In addition, XML is an ever-evolving set of standards that has led many to believe the technology's not soup yet. "We process over one million business-to-business transactions per day on our service," says Steve Goldstein, who is e-business development manager at Peregrine Systems, which recently bought Harbinger. His connect2.net service converts assorted electronic data interchange (EDI), XML and other formats in documents exchanged by customers such as B.F. Goodrich and Dell Computer. "Less than 2% of those documents are in XML. Most are still in EDI." Goldstein's guess is less than 5% of all business-to-business transactions are done using XML. The main problem with XML is the technology has become splintered, forcing users to convert documents between different vendors' XML tag sets. Commerce One, for instance, has the cXML and "Roundtrip" tag sets, while its rival, Ariba, promotes its xCBL and "Punchout" tag sets. Microsoft has BizTalk, and then there's the RosettaNet consortium XML document set supported by the electronics industry. "There are fees for doing this XML-to-XML document conversion, and frankly, it's a profitable business model for us," Goldstein says. Some companies are buying into such conversion services, though. J.L. Hammett, which uses Ironside Technologies' Ironworks commerce server to accept purchase orders over the Internet, uses the Ironside. net conversion service to change Ariba-defined purchase orders into Commerce One-defined ones, when necessary. "We now get 18% of our sales online, which is more than $30 million annually," says Dave Merigold, J.L. Hammett's director of marketing. "But it does cost money to do XML-to-XML conversion." This is ironic for XML, because the original idea was the technology would not require the kinds of value-added network services - and costs - that have turned off many EDI users. "Sure, XML and the Web will eventually replace EDI, and will bring new trading partners to the Web," says Joseph Giles, vice president and chief information officer at Vans, which sells skating and snowboarding equipment. Vans, using IBM's WebSphere application server, has opened up its J.D. Edwards supply-chain system to distributors and equipment suppliers to check order status and transact business. But Giles says he hears more demand for EDI. "XML is just the buzzword du jour," he says. SciQuest is one of the most active online business-to-business exchanges, with more than 700 suppliers, including Dow Chemical and DuPont, selling scientific and laboratory products to university and commercial researchers. SciQuest uses Mercator's Windows NT-based CommerceBroker translation and mapping server to convert purchase orders, acknowledgements and invoices into EDI, XML or formats such as SAP R/3 - whatever each business partner on the exchange wants, says Karen Khiser, SciQuest's director of e-commerce integration. "Not many people have XML at this point, though we do have two suppliers receiving XML documents with us," Khiser says. "But the XML document standards are so ill-defined at this point." Adil Shabbir, chief technology officer at BenefitPoint, which is building a business-to-business exchange for the insurance industry based on XML, says the baseline XML 1.0 specification is well-defined. Shabbir says the bigger issue now is defining specific business documents based on XML, such as those being built under the insurance industry's Acord effort. But CIOs in the insurance industry at this point seem more interested in using EDI than XML, so BenefitPoint will pay special attention to mapping XML into EDI. The proliferation of XML standards, schemas and other projects continued last week with yet another XML framework. A group of 36 of the most vocal XML backers, including IBM, Microsoft, Ariba, Commerce One and Sun, aired plans to devise an XML-based repository where companies can advertise their services and programming interfaces they support. The initiative, called the Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI) Project, intends to have a standard in place so that repositories built around it could be linked into a global network. "There is a need for a system where partners can discover each others' interfaces," says Burton Group analyst and Network World columnist Jim Kobielus. But the UDDI specification appears to be at least 18 months away from being submitted to a standards body. The never-ending trail of XML standards leaves close observers feeling XML is always over the horizon. "We plan to move to XML, but we feel the standard just hasn't solidified yet," says Rick Heroux, the IT program manager for the Securities and Exchange Commission's Edgar filing system. "We're watching XML carefully, but the jury is still out," says Ed Dembek, senior analyst at utility company Commonwealth Edison in Chicago. "Based on the companies driving it, we think XML will be everywhere eventually. But our question is when?" "It's like going back to the old X.400 days when everyone was implementing the specification differently and nothing worked together," says Jim McDermott, board member at the Network Applications Consortium, a user group that has championed application integration issues for a decade. "I don't want to go through that again." One important emerging XML standard, called XML Schema, is set to be approved by year-end. XML Schema, now a candidate recommendation within the World Wide Web Consortium, is the needed "blueprint" for defining the structure of XML messages, says IBM's XML technology expert Bob Suter. "If we are exchanging business information, such as dollar amounts, it has to be in the right place and format." Supported in software, XML Schema will spare e-commerce providers from having to write software to validate a range of business information, Suter notes. Suter acknowledges that few businesses are using XML in e-commerce, but he notes that the technology is gaining use in the publishing and storing of data. "We're seeing XML a lot inside corporations, such as banks or government. The Defense Department is building repositories holding XML Schema." Members of the financial industry, including J.P. Morgan, last year started working on a set of XML-based documents for use in trading securities derivatives (called the Financial Products Markup Language), but that is still a work in progress. XML is also getting traction as a transport mechanism, with Microsoft pushing an XML-based protocol called Simple Object Access Protocol (for more on SOAP, see story). For e-commerce, XML is "still early," says Daryn Walters, vice president of marketing at XML Solutions, which sells a business-to-business server called the Business Integration Platform. "Everyone thought the first deployments of XML would be in e-procurement. But that hasn't happened. Companies are now confused with how to take a technology like XML and implement it. There are so many dialects."
  • XML marks the spot at Microsoft

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 10:53 pm

    XML is the defining technology for interoperability between unlike computing systems, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates told financial analysts recently. And it's the glue for Microsoft's .Net Internet platform. But don't expect to see the promise of XML realized anytime soon. In May, Gates told Network World, "To really use XML and turn the Internet into a platform built around XML, for the industry that is a five-year project." Gates says every Microsoft product will be touched by XML. Two of the company's most popular servers already bear XML markings. The SQL Server 2000 database allows functions such as XML-based queries, and the soon-to-arrive Exchange 2000 uses XML to describe data housed in its Web Storage System. Microsoft's BizTalk Server 2000, which recently went into beta testing, is the XML workhorse, providing XML translation and tools to coordinate the delivery of XML messages. "XML is one of the best ways to communicate between business partner systems," says Dave Turner, product manager for XML technologies at Microsoft. "There are no dependencies on the endpoints. The endpoints can change without having to worry about each other because it's XML in the middle." But as much as Microsoft touts XML as the glue for a 'Net economy, it has a lot of work to do. Only one of its seven XML-enabled servers is actually shipping. "Microsoft is in its infancy with XML, just like everyone else," says Mike Gilpin, an analyst with Giga Information Group in Cambridge, Mass. "A big missing element is Visual Studio 7, which will allow developers to use XML and create e-services for the .Net platform." Microsoft is working diligently as a primary backer of the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), a lightweight, XML-based protocol for exchanging information. The protocol has been presented to the World Wide Web Consortium and the Internet Engineering Task Force. Microsoft has included SOAP 1.1 in its BizTalk Framework 2.0, an open specification for XML-based data routing and exchange. Other efforts by Microsoft include the BizTalk.org Web site, in which XML formats, or schemas, can be submitted for peer review.
  • Companies seek tools to ferret out scattered data

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 10:49 pm

    As companies add bigger hard drives and place servers for different departments in different locations, information technology managers are looking for ways to make the content that hardware contains searchable and easy to display on user desktops. The challenge, say some corporate users, is finding one way to access both content located in the labeled fields of structured databases in central repositories and data that's stored as documents across hundreds of servers. Paul Rolich, the multimedia manager at the National Underwriter Co. in Erlanger, Ky., said that several months ago, he was about ready to write his own XML code to create a content indexing and management system, when he came across NextPage LLC, a start-up firm in Provo, Utah. XML lets users write tags that describe data, making it possible to display and manipulate virtually any type of information on a Web page. NextPage was formed in July of last year when a group of investors purchased the Folio content management technology from Open Market Inc. in Burlington, Mass., according to a company spokesman.

    Electronic Paper Trail

    Rolich uses NextPage's software to index and manage individual and sets of documents that insurance companies use for reference. His department converted thousands of paper documents that were created and changed each month to an HTML format, which employs the predefined headings used to build Web pages that can be read with a browser, he said. The documents were then "sucked into the NextPage server," Rolich said, and published to the National Underwriter's intranet as HTML pages. Rolich said insurance companies that purchase the documents his company publishes could search the NextPage index of those documents from a Web browser and display the document that meets the search criteria. Insurance company customers could in turn distribute the same documents out of the National Underwriter's database to insurance wholesalers and retail agents. Mike Maziarka, an analyst at CAP Ventures Inc. in Norwell, Mass., said NextPage's technology is based on Folio but the company has added new components using XML. The Folio products, Maziarka said, focused on publishing searchable databases of documents on CD-ROMs. He said NextPage has taken the concept of syndication - the ability to either distribute or receive content from different sources - and applied it to the enterprise. He acknowledged that NextPage's early adopters like the National Underwriter and another user, Thomson Learning in Stamford, Conn., are mostly in publishing-related businesses, which he said was a function of NextPage's Folio roots.

    Challenges Ahead

    Before NextPage considers markets other than publishing, it may have to make an effort to mend relationships with old Folio customers, said Andy Warzecha, an analyst at Meta Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn. "Open Market killed credibility for Folio users [when Open Market owned Folio]," Warzecha said. Josh Walker, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., said that what NextPage is doing is part of a larger and growing trend and that the idea isn't particularly new. Other companies, such as Brio Technology Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif., and Hummingbird Ltd. in New York, Ontario, are aggressively pursuing the same markets and have competing technologies.
  • E-commerce changing the face of databases

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 10:43 pm

    These Web-based applications are putting new demands on database products and that's changing the way companies evaluate database management systems. "You have to look at the database role as changing significantly," says Michael Mamet, who runs XLS, a Westfield, N.J., consulting firm specializing in database tuning. "The database is being made Internet-enabled." He cites security as one example. An e-commerce application that moves data between clients and servers on the Internet can traverse scores of computers, which offer the chance for compromising the data. As a result, he says, Sybase has said it will add support for Secure Sockets Layer and for the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol, which is used for authentication, in the upcoming 12.5 release of its database, Adaptive Server Enterprise. "[Customers] can't just look at the database as a means of storing data," Mamet says. "They have to be concerned about keeping it secure." There are other emerging requirements for e-commerce databases, such as: The ability to handle larger amounts of data and users than before. The need for increasingly sophisticated support for an array of Internet standards, such as Java and the XML. The ability to work closely with application servers, other databases, old applications and third-party e-commerce software. High-availability features, including server clustering. Customers' e-business requirements are setting the pace for database vendors with a new urgency. In June, Oracle announced middleware products and features closely integrated with its core database. One key addition to the Oracle Application Server was a caching feature that offloads data from the database to the application server to speed data access for Web users. At the time the technology was introduced, Oracle Chairman Larry Ellison said the idea came from Yahoo, one of the company's customers. "They have a big Oracle database, but they have caches in hundreds of small computers with copies of the data," he said. "It's a fascinating architecture. We learned a lot from watching that, and decided to incorporate that into our product line." It's significant that Oracle incorporated this feature into a product other than its database but intimately connected with it. Besides adding new features to the database, the vendors are trying to boost the value of their products to e-commerce users by tying them in with new products, either their own or those of other software vendors. These include application servers, Web servers, messaging and other middleware. "Enterprises are making their [e-commerce] decisions based on the application itself, and the [overall] application architecture, such as the connectivity between the legacy systems and the Web, scaling, security and so on," says John Chen, chairman of Sybase, in Emeryville, Calif. "The database is a critical component, but they don't make the decision on that alone." As a result, Sybase and other vendors are incorporating the database into new products, which include several interconnected software components. A year ago, Sybase released Sybase Financial Server, a set of applications and middleware for banking and securities customers, built on top of the company's database. Last December, Sybase acquired an Internet consumer banking applications vendor, bundled the software with Financial Server and launched a subsidiary, Financial Fusion, to develop and sell the combined product as a complete e-banking package. Separately, Informix Software in June released a new version of Informix Foundation.2000. Foundation includes the Informix database management system, along with a Java Virtual Machine, a special component to store and manage HTML and XML files in the database, and an interface to Informix's MaxConnect middleware. The new Foundation release offers up to 20% better performance, needs 40% less memory and can handle up to 23% more users than the previous one, according to Informix. The increase in users is achieved via MaxConnect, which takes over from the database the chores of managing user connections. MaxConnect multiplexes many client connections over one or a few net connections. Some say these e-commerce packages show that databases are becoming commodities: even Sybase's Chen says databases are "six of one and a half-dozen of the other." But others insist the demanding requirements of e-commerce make the technical details of the core database more, not less, important to business decision-makers. "The Internet has re-accentuated some of the old values that made databases important in the first place, such as security, data integrity and availability," says Ken Jacobs, Oracle's vice president of product strategy. "As a result, the differences in database features have become more important. For example, are there features that let you administer the [e-commerce] database while it's up and running?" Consultant Mamet says most databases support Java, by letting you write programs called stored procedures, which run inside the database and act as instructions to the database to manipulate data in some particular way before delivering it to a requesting application. But if the Java Virtual Machine runs outside the database engine, performance can suffer. Likewise, Mamet says, if the vendor lets you write what are called user-defined functions and data types, in Java, programs become easier to write and to alter. Enterprise users can expect more e-commerce features in database management systems, and more improvements to them mainly in two areas: Java and XML. "We're on the verge of seeing the fruition of XML's promise," says Martin Marshall, managing director of Zona Research in Redwood City, Calif. "XML is the way to knit together disparate applications [and data] that were never designed [originally] to work together." The key to sorting through the database vendor hype about "Internet platforms" is a thorough understanding of your business problem, and of the e-commerce application you need to solve it. "If I was looking to support a Java e-commerce application, I would have to look at my database, and ask, 'This is what I need to do, does the database support this, or do I have to program around it?'" Mamet says.
  • Gates focuses on developers at briefing on Microsoft's future

    Posted January 26, 2001 - 10:40 pm

    True to his new role as Microsoft Corp.'s chief software architect, Bill Gates today delved deeply into source code and application development tools while outlining the company's future to a roomful of Wall Street analysts. Gates explained the inner workings of XML, the basis for the Internet-based .Net computing strategy that Microsoft announced last month (see story). He also showed source-code outputs and even keyed XML tags into a document to show how the technology will improve the integration between Windows and Web-based applications. One specific area in which Microsoft expects to see improved integration will come with its planned release of Office 2000, which is slotted for next year. The upgrade will include a feature called WebParts, which uses XML to link Office 2000 clients to online catalogs of .Net-based computing services. Howard Crow, a Microsoft product manager, said a list of WebParts developed by both the company and third-party software developers will be posted on Microsoft's Web site. One financial analyst in attendance, who asked not to be identified, said the presentation by Gates "was a bit techie for me." But Gates continually returned to his developer theme, repeating many of the comments he made at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference earlier this month (see story). Gates said it's "most important" for Microsoft to convince software developers to adopt VisualStudio.Net, a promised upgrade of the company's set of development tools that was released in a beta test version at the Professional Developers Conference (see story). VisualStudio.Net is due out next year as the first product to be released under the .Net strategy, according to Microsoft. However, Brian Valentine, a senior vice president at Microsoft, disagreed with Gates on the top priority facing the company. Valentine said the "No. 1 issue" for Microsoft is to make Windows 2000 the operating system of choice for business users, which he admitted isn't the case right now.
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