Joe Mabel offers some thoughts on XML - 4

by Joe Mabel

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XML and the Wireless Web

While we're on the subject of exciting recent developments in the world of computing, certainly another contender is wireless computing. In Europe and Japan, where PCs are not as ubiquitous as in the US, wireless devices, especially web-enabled phones, could become the main way people access online content.

Guess what? XML plays a key role in the wireless world as well.

The promise of wireless is enormous, but so are the challenges. One of these challenges is how to present content usefully on a tiny screen. Content formatted in HTML for a typically sized PC screen won't cut it. Instead, there are now several competing wireless-oriented markup languages.

At least one of these alternatives to HTML -- the Wireless Markup Language (WML) -- is itself an XML application. However, yet another emerging XML-application standard, Composite Capabilities/Preference Profiles (CC/PP), looks like it should supersede the need to amrk up content in WML, HDML, cHTML, or any other specialized wireless-oriented markup language. Instead, content authors will mark up their content once, in a rich format (XML itself). CC/PP will allow content to reformat itself on the fly to fit any device.

We can also expect XML to take a major role in strategies to synchronize data between wireless devices and host systems.

Increasingly, all that XML-based technology will provide access to e-business technologies like Microsoft's BizTalk, built largely in -- what else? -- XML.

My work with XML

I've been using XML since the summer of 1999, when Saltmine adopted XML as the means to solve two problems for Wizards of the Coast (now part of Hasbro). Wizards' flagship product is the game Magic: The Gathering. Magic is played with cards that are also intended to be collectibles; so far, Wizards has issued over 7000 distinct cards.

For Wizards, Saltmine developed a product that could allow Magic players to maintain a database of Magic cards on their own machines (it also allowed online play). I came up with an XML application to allow Wizards to issue updates to the database whenever they issue a new series of cards or change the official rules about an existing card. The approach included built-in authentication, using public key encryption, so that no one but Wizards could issue such updates.

I also developed a second XML application defining a format that third parties could use to make available their price lists for existing Magic cards. This allowed end users to choose among various vendors for which price lists they considered authoritative. (Approximately the same technology could be used to allow multiple companies to post their competing prices for any range of products or services.)

Since then I've worked with XML in a variety of applications, ranging from content management for a Microsoft online help system to tracking cargoes for a leading company in the transportation industry. I've found that designing with XML shortens time to market, simplifies interoperation with third party systems, and provides an excellent basis for internationalization and localization.

Copyright ©2001 Joseph L. Mabel

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January 26, 2001

Last modified: 2003

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