Dr. Robert S. Sutor

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XML: Article

Oasis and XML.org

Oasis and XML.org

XML is a significant technological achievement, but what's it really good for when it comes to e-business and industry applications? In these columns I'll discuss how companies and consortiums are developing XML specifications for a wide range of industries. Most of the hot activity these days is around using XML for messaging for business integration and business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce. I don't expect to discuss publishing in any depth, though some interesting work is going on with content distribution such as ICE and newspaper electronic formats such as XML News, and I'll probably talk about it in future columns.

In this inaugural column I'll discuss OASIS and XML.org and their role in helping XML industry specifications get developed and used. I'm on the board of directors of OASIS and am a member of the XML.org steering committee helping represent IBM. The opinions expressed below are my own and don't necessarily express those of IBM or other members of the OASIS board or membership.

OASIS is the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (www.oasis-open.org) and is a nonprofit international consortium. OASIS, previously known as SGML Open, was founded in 1993, and as the older name implies, much of its early activity reflected SGML's strong presence in the document and publishing community. With the ascendancy of XML and its importance for business message formats, the name change became important. OASIS now has more than 100 member organizations, and recent membership gains reflect this shift in emphasis from documents to transactions. We recently made a strong commitment to our European members by hiring a representative based in the UK. Membership growth has accelerated in recent months and we expect to hire representatives in other parts of the world, such as Asia Pacific, as suitable candidates become available.

The "structured information standards" in the expansion of the OASIS acronym currently refers to four technologies: XML, SGML, HTM and CGM. CGM, the Computer Graphics Metafile, is a format defined by ISO /IEC 8632:1992 for describing vector, raster and hybrid (raster and vector) graphics in a compact way. The CGM Open Consortium (www.cgmopen.org) is an affiliate organization of OASIS and consists of vendors and users of CGM technology. Since CGM isn't based on XML, I'm not going to discuss it in detail here. It's likely that OASIS will soon have other affiliates that are dedicated to using XML for particular industries. The advantage of being an OASIS affiliate is that you and your colleagues can concentrate more on the domain-specific work at hand rather than getting overly involved with consortium administration factors. An affiliate does have its own board of directors and bylaws, however, and thus lies somewhere between a completely independent consortium and a technical committee.

One of the real jewels of OASIS is the Robin Cover SGML/XML pages. These pages include more than 3,000 documents that discuss the technology that's been developed for SGML and XML over the last several years. Within these pages you'll also find descriptions of much of the industry activity involving XML. Robin lists the essential books to read and has descriptions of public and commercial software for XML, SGML and related technology such as XSL.

One of the most exciting things to happen within OASIS recently was the formation of XML.org (www.xml.org), an initiative to create a vendor-neutral clearinghouse for XML resources. Typically these resources are DTDs or schemas, but they might be XSL stylesheets or HTML pages. Nine OASIS member organizations were the initial sponsors of XML.org. IBM, Oracle, SAP and Sun Microsystems each contributed $100,000 and Commerce One, DataChannel, Documentum, GCA and SoftQuad each contributed $25,000. The contribution level is based on corporate revenues, not dedication to the initiative!

Right now, it's very hard to find detailed technical XML specifications and information about work being done in industry via a Web search. It's important to have an XML resource clearinghouse where you can go to access the latest DTDs and schemas and learn how they should be used. The clearinghouse must be available to you from your Web browser, but also for application software that uses the XML resources (think of a program that needs the latest version of an XSL stylesheet for a transformation).

The physical clearinghouse will be built using the OASIS/XML.org registry and repository architecture. We foresee a global Web of repositories linked via a master registry of the contents and metadata. So XML.org will have a repository of schemas and other resources, but there will be compatible repositories out there that are under the control of independent organizations. These organizations might want their own repositories so they can control updates, versioning or access control. Their repositories will be compatible with that used by XML.org itself, because they all adhere to the API defined within the OASIS/XML.org registry and repository specification. While there may be open implementations of the repository, we also expect commercial versions built on top of enterprise-quality databases from vendors such as IBM, Oracle and others.

You'll be able to query the master XML.org registry on the contents of all the repositories within the Web. The repository at the XML.org site will exist for the convenience of those who don't wish to maintain their own installation. The XML.org repository will also hold the work done by OASIS technical committees and this leads to an important, sometimes misunderstood, point about the relationship between OASIS and XML.org.

XML.org is an activity within OASIS; it's not a separate organization. In some sense it's a branding for much of the XML activity that takes place within OASIS. All "XML.org technical committees" are actually "OASIS technical committees," and representatives of OASIS organizations can participate in any of the technical work done under the XML.org banner. So while we say that XML.org has the nine original sponsors, it's actually a resource and a benefit for all 100+ OASIS member organizations. The registry and repository technical committee, for example, had existed for several months within OASIS before XML.org was announced. The XML.org clearinghouse will be the result of the technical work of many OASIS members. It'll also be influenced by the work done within the XML/EDI community (see www.xmledi.org), the Object Management Group (OMG) and others. Incidentally, OASIS and the OMG (www.omg.org) have exchanged memberships so they can more easily take part in, and advantage of, each other's technical work.

Part of the mission of OASIS is to be an organization in which member companies can come together and create XML industry standards. In addition to the affiliates I mentioned above, technical work can be done within technical committees. In a process somewhat similar to that in the W3C, interested parties produce a briefing package of what they hope to accomplish in a specified timeframe. Once they get approval from the OASIS board to proceed, the technical work begins, perhaps with input from work already done within member companies. The goal is to eventually reach the status of XML.org Recommendation. We're investigating a process by which we can also award this status to high-quality XML specification work done by other consortiums. The tricky and perhaps controversial part is deciding on exactly what high quality means! One thing that's certain is that an XML.org Recommendation schema must be written using a standard description language such as the XML DTD format or the forthcoming W3C XML Schema language. Compliance to real, open standards rather than a single company's XML vision is at the core of XML.org, and that starts with how we'll describe our recommended specifications.

When you visit the XML.org site, you'll see that it's described as the "XML Industry Portal." While I know that portal sometimes gets overused these days, let me explain exactly what we mean by this. From the XML.org site you'll first get access to the XML resource registry and repository. Since this isn't in place yet, the site has a catalog of XML DTDs and schemas. Where there's a description of a specification within Robin Cover's pages, the catalog includes a link. We update the catalog as new work is brought to our attention, and the site has a form for submitting work you wish to have listed. The catalog will be the basis for populating the XML.org registry and repository when it goes online early this year.

Via the Robin Cover pages and other links, the XML.org site is a source of timely information about the application of XML in industrial settings. This includes Robin's daily news briefs about XML, which are syndicated to XML.com and other sites. The OASIS news page provides an update on XML activities at OASIS and its member companies. To my knowledge, the XML.org calendar is the most complete catalog of XML industry events.

OASIS has just hired a managing editor for the XML.org site and we expect that this will lead to even greater coverage of industry activities. We plan to have industry-by-industry descriptions of the major development work on XML specifications. For example, the financial industry page will discuss the significance and status of the FpML, FIXML and the S.W.I.F.T. XML specifications. We also plan to have technical articles about XML specifications written by people in the industries who are actually doing the development. If you're interested in writing such an article or have specific topics that you wish me to discuss in future columns, please contact me via the e-mail address listed below.

In my next column I'll discuss the work taking place within the joint UN/CEFACT and OASIS Electronic Business XML initiative (www.ebxml.org). After that, I'll look at standards work related to EDI and XML, and start investigating XML activities in specific industries.

More Stories By Dr. Robert S. Sutor

Dr. Bob Sutor is Director of Marketing for IBM's WebSphere Foundation Software as well as its Web services and SOA efforts. A 21 year veteran of
IBM, Sutor has spent most of his career in IBM Research, specializing in symbolic computation and Internet publishing. In 1999 he moved to the IBM Software Group and focused on jump starting industry use of XML. This led to positions on the Board of Directors of the OASIS standards group and the vice chairmanship of the ebXML effort, a joint OASIS/United Nations endeavor. Sutor then led IBM's industry standards and Web services strategy efforts. He currently leads IBM's marketing efforts around the WebSphere Application Server and enterprise modernization software. Sutor is a frequent speaker on WebSphere, Web services, and Service Oriented Architecture. He is widely cited in the press and was recently featured in interviews in the Harvard Business Review and InfoWorld.

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