XML syntax can trip a user up, vendor says

Agencies that jump into Web services and Extensible Markup Language without a thorough understanding are building a house of cards, says Mike Plusch, chief executive officer of Clear Methods Inc. of Cambridge, Mass.

'XML is verbose and ambiguous,' Plusch said in a recent speech. 'It bogs down if you just slap it on as a wrapper for sending data, without a uniform data format and logic' for processing transactions.

Rather than a programming language itself, he said, XML is a common syntax for expressing Extensible Binary Meta Language, HTML and other languages used in Web services with Java2 Enterprise Edition and Microsoft Windows Server System, formerly .Net.

If 12 agencies each had a form sharing some common fields, and they hired 12 developers to encode the forms, there would be 12 different representations of identical content, Plusch said.
'The whole purpose of going to Web services is efficiency,' he said. 'But computers don't handle ambiguity very well.'

In a project at the Library of Congress, he said, ASCII data in the 30-year-old Machine-Readable Cataloging (MARC) system became eight times more voluminous when represented in XML.

As an alternative to XML, Clear Methods is promoting its Steam run-time engine and Water, an executable language that, Plusch said, 'radically simplifies XML. Its core statements fit on three pages.' A free Java2 trial version of the Steam integrated development environment for Windows, Mac OS, Linux and Unix platforms is downloadable from www.clearmethods.com.

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