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XML Industry Sub-Standards in Development

XML is not only going to improve basic website information, but it is also being adapted for alternative uses. When XML was created, it was intended that the language would be useful in areas where a markup language has never been used before. By using XML sub-specifications, data that previously had no relation to the Internet could be easily shared by people all around the world.

A drawback of current sub-specification models is that different businesses and consortiums propose them, and as a result, there is competition. However, many of these models have such similar designs, that it is likely that some will be merged, or at the very least, be interoperable using software that supports the different sub-specifications.

XSL, or Extensible Style Language, is a sub-specification currently in approval by the W3C. The purpose of XSL is that it would be used in conjunction with XML web pages, and provides a styling mechanism for those pages. XSL is aiming to replace Cascading Style Sheets, also called CSS, which is a non-XML format. However, there is debate on whether XSL is necessary, especially since current standards use CSS. For example, Microsoft has been adopting XSL into its Internet Explorer product, even before the specification has been set. Yet, Netscapeís upcoming Communicator products will be 100% compliant of current specifications, and not support XSL. Until XSL matures, it is likely that CSS will still be used by most websites, since it provides the highest level of compatibility.

The XML-based User Interface Language, or XUL (pronounced "Zuul"), is an implementation of XML used for the graphical components of a computer program. A GUI is most everything you see on modern computer screens, such as buttons, tabs, menus, sliders, windows, file listings, and more. The significance of XUL is that it allows rapid GUI development and a high level of customization possibility.

XUL was developed by Netscape Communications, and will be used throughout their upcoming Communicator product. With the entire GUI of Communicator written in XUL, it can actually become part of the web browsing experience. One possible implementation would be that Internet service providers could modify the Communicator GUI to integrate with their services to a great extent, and add their logo and themes to the product.

Websites could also dynamically modify the XUL GUI as you browse, offering a more integrated experience. An example could be a website map temporarily displayed in tabbed-window as part of the web browser.

It is impossible to tell if others in the software industry will adopt XUL, as it is only a specification currently in use by Netscape and affiliates. However, XUL is a very good example of XML being used beyond an Internet web page.

One of the most frustrating parts of the Internet experience is the ubiquitous ad banners. They are usually advertising a product or service that you would have no interest in, therefore it is a worthless ad, and the user has lost time waiting for the ad to load along with the web page.

The Ad Markup Language offers a new way to exchange advertising information among advertisers, website publishers, and users. Using AML, ad data can be easily exchanged among these groups, resulting in better ad targeting based on user interest from certain types of web sites. These improvements increase both advertisersí ad value, and usersí Internet experience. Ideally for users, ads would not exist, but better ad targeting might decrease the need for high ad volume in an attempt to reach interested customers. Advertisers would be comfortable in paying a higher price for fewer ads if they know that targeted customers are viewing the ads.

For storing advertising data, a computer system might use Extensible Log Format. XLF is a sub-specification for logging data created by computers. Instead of computers outputting undefined and overwhelmingly long data files, XLF log would be able to be "mined", as some in the computer industry call it, for meaningful data that can be reprocessed.

A possible use would be for web server logs of visiting users. A web server can find out much about a user, such as their Internet service provider (which can translate to location), computer type, what website they came from, and much more. Using this data, it could be processed, with the useful information being outputted as AML, and used for advertising information.

An important aspect of any XML sub-specification is that by using computers to do low intensity sorting and translating of XML, we can easily use the output for other purposes. In fact, there is a proposed extension of XSL call XSLT that would be used as a reference for such translations. Using XUL, any of this data could be used in a computer program, and be embedded inside of menus, windows, listings and more, creating a useful application in understanding a problem, or realizing a goal. With the relationships between types of XML explained, it is more obvious on how they can be applied by using computers to sort out the data and put it in a visual format that is useful to people.

There also exists XML that is able to control these XML-sorting applications and it is called Resource Description Framework. RDF is a way for XML data to be used for automated processing of web resources. RDF can be more simply described as instructions and rules for computer applications that process any sort of XML data. With a boom in the volume of XML data likely, RDF will play a big role in allowing computers to manage that data effectively.

For managing commerce, there is FinXML, a standard developed to exchange data between capitol markets. The advantage of FinXML is that it allows complex financial transactions to be made using computers in confidence. E-commerce is the primary application of this language, and allows direct communication between financial institutions, vendors, and consumers.

The FinXML language has tags defined for different types of transactions, such as; basic financial transactions, reference data, market data, payments, settlements and confirmations. FinXML also supports a wide variety of financial products including interest rate, foreign exchange, bonds, money markets, loans, deposits, and trading futures.

Consumers may see service fees drop over time for financial transactions if FinXML, or some alternative is adopted. In addition to lower costs, a higher level of financial options may be offered, such as highly customized investments and loans.

Institutions may have better access to data exchanges, with transactions possible between two previously incompatible entities. In addition, FinXML is compatible with outside industry standards, which also support e-commerce. With broader money markets, FinXML could make the world economy much more efficient, and using Unicode, offers understandable XML data to non-western countries.

For sensitive information like commerce, there is an XML format called P3P, which is short for Platform for Privacy Preference Project. It enables Web sites to express their privacy practices in a standard format that can be retrieved automatically and interpreted easily by usersí web browsers. P3P compatible software will allow users to be informed of site practices and to transparently adhere to these practices, so users need not read the privacy policies at every site they visit.

The goal of P3P is to provide greater security when transferring sensitive information, and setting rules on what kind of information can be transferred between a web browser and a server.

For displaying complex mathematical and scientific expressions: MathML was created, and is currently in its second iteration. Previously, math expressions have been created using graphics, but MathML makes the process much easier.

One implementation of MathML is in Netscapeís upcoming Communicator product, allowing MathML to be embedded into web pages. Another goal of the product is to offer MathML expression editing in Communicatorís web page composer.

Other possible implementations are computer algebra systems, print typesetters, and voice synthesizers making Math data available to the blind. Also, plug-ins and enhancements are being developed to let existing web browsers view MathML.

Here is a simple algebra expression:

x2 + 4x + 4 = 0

This expression in MathML would be written like this:

      <msup> <mi>x</mi> <mn>2</mn> </msup> <mo>+</mo>
        <mn>4</mn> <mo>&invisibletimes;</mo> <mi>x</mi>
     <mo>+</mo> <mn>4</mn>
   <mo>=</mo> <mn>0</mn>

As you can see, MathML is not easy to follow, however, MathML is intended for an editing program, therefore making the creation process much easier.

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