SAN MATEO (03/27/2000) - As the industry coos over XML's potential as the data interchange mechanism for e-commerce, XSL (Extensible Stylesheet Language), may be overlooked, even though it could prove a valuable asset in paring down development costs and targeting myriad devices.
For that reason, many companies are beginning to complement their XML support with XSL support in their core products. One such adopter is the Sun-Netscape Alliance, whose application services CTO, Larry Cable, said the company will provide a full-featured set of XML and XSL technologies in its iPlanet Application Server 6.0, now in beta testing.
That support, Cable said, will allow iPlanet to take advantage of XSL's main benefits, such as taking information from a single source, transforming it to another XML-based language, such as HDML (Handheld Devices Markup Language), and delivering that content to a broad variety of devices, a capability that could greatly reduce development costs.
"XSL is a very expressive programming language, so you could basically perform any transformation from one XML [variant] to another," Cable said.
Industry titans IBM and Microsoft are also looking at XSL as an important technology for presenting content on a variety of devices.
IBM has made a commitment to the technology across a number of its key middleware products, and views the technology as an important supplementary piece to its XML and transcoding initiatives.
"The most important aspect for users is that XSL lets you use XML on servers, yet present data in its appropriate format and vocabulary on a number of pervasive devices," said Bob Sutor, IBM's program director for XML technology, in Somers, N.Y.
IBM first delivered the technology well over a year ago in its Lotus XSL Processor, a Java-based application capable of reading XSLT (Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformation) scripts that can be run with XML. The company has also baked the technology into its Domino and Websphere application servers, and its upcoming version of MQSeries Integrator.
Microsoft is including support for the technology across its Windows DNA (Distributed interNet Architecture) platform.
That infrastructure, noted Charles Fitzgerald, director of business development for Microsoft's developer division in Redmond, Wash., will include support for XSL as a transformation language as well as a tool for data manipulation.
The problem of easily presenting content on a variety of mobile devices may run deeper than XSL.
An industry insider noted that the real issue in feeding data to disparate machines is that the makers of those devices are creating proprietary solutions based on their own protocols, not true Internet standards.
One company that is looking to overcome that obstacle is Oraclemobile.com, a recent offshoot of Oracle that is providing other transformation technologies.
"Some people would use just XSL, but to do well across all devices you need to do a little bit more," said Jacob Christfort, CTO and vice president of product development at oraclemobile.com in Redwood Shores, Calif. "XSL can support 80 percent of the new devices coming out, but to have a complete solution you need to write more involved transformers for all the devices."
Ed Scannell contributed to this report.
Extensible Stylesheet Language
XSL, in working draft stage from the World Wide Web Consortium, includes the following.
* A language (XSLT) for transforming XML documents into other XML documents* An XML vocabulary for specifying formatting semantics.