- The Washington Times - Monday, October 16, 2000

XML is similar to HTML, the language used to design Web pages. Both XML and HTML use a set of "tags" to identify information. HTML uses these tags to describe what something should look like on a page. For instance, if a person wanted to put his name in bold on a Web page, he would type John Doe. The and tags would tell the computer to bold the information within.
The problem with HTML, however, is that a computer does not know what the words "John Doe" mean. With XML, a computer can be told that John Doe is a name. In XML, the information could look something like this: John Doe. The and tags tell the computer that the information they are processing is a name. In essence, XML tags tell what the information is, not what it looks like.
XML, unlike HTML, is not a markup language itself but a set of rules to create new markup languages. Using XML's ground rules, businesses can create their own markup languages to help streamline communications and transactions. For instance, a doctor may wish to e-mail a patient's records to a specialist. Before XML, the specialist would not be able to simply paste the records into the hospital's database. But if the medical community were to create an XML-based markup language for encoding medical records, then the doctor's e-mail could be transferred directly into the database.
XML is represented visually using "stylesheet" technology, or XSL. Companies can create XSL stylesheets to make XML look and feel however they wish. Because XML is extensible, it can be shown in any form on any platform. If a blind person needs data represented in Braille, XML is flexible enough to allow it. If the data need to be shown in Chinese, Hungarian or Swahili, that can be done, too. And if you need the information displayed on your Palm Pilot, that's not a problem either.
Confused by XML? Don't worry. If you're just an average person, you won't need to learn it any time soon. It's not going to replace HTML, the language you might have used to create your personal Web page.
Despite their similarities in structure, it is important to point out that XML and HTML perform completely different functions.
"A lot of people are under the misconception that XML is a replacement for HTML, which it's not," said Tamir Orbach, chief technology officer for ThinkXML, a Rockville-based firm that uses XML to help make business-to-business electronic commerce more efficient.



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