XML for 2003

by Simon St. Laurent

2003 is promising to be the most exciting year the XML world has seen since those halcyon days of 1998 and 1999, as substance fills in the space behind all the promises.

The biggest upcoming news is likely to grow from Microsoft's recent announcements at the XML 2002 conference. Making it possible to create, process, and analyze XML documents using the Microsoft Office set of tools both opens Office to new possibilities and gives XML developers a whole new set of priorities for the kinds of information they can expect to see.

At the same time, it was a delight to see Rick Jelliffe of Topologi showing off the Topologi Markup Editor directly opposite the booth for Microsoft Word. To some users, Topologi's close-to-the-markup editor may seem like a throwback to days they'd rather not experience, but for other users (myself included) this set of precision machine tools for markup is a dream come true. There's room for both kinds of tool in the XML universe, and it seems likely that Topologi's editor will get a lot of use exploring and tweaking documents originally created in Office.

On the Web side, SVG and XForms are both worth close examination. SVG's adoption rate has been slow but very steady, with a tightly-knit core community doing all kinds of work. SVG's latest iterations bring it formally to handheld devices and continue the W3C's modularization approach, making it easier to integrate SVG with other XML-based technologies. (Visio's upcoming SVG support is yet another reason to watch SVG next year.) XForms hasn't yet reached Recommendation status, but it offers some powerful solutions to the nasty mess that HTML+JavaScript forms have devolved into.

On the standards side, RELAX NG continues to gain momentum. A much more elegant schema language with mathematical foundations, RELAX NG's foundations are clean enough that it's both human-accessible (especially in its compact syntax) and machine-readable (and can be converted into both W3C XML Schema and tables for use in J2ME cell phones). The ISO project including RELAX NG, DSDL, offers a lot of interesting technology for those weary of the enormous W3C XML Schema, XQuery, and XSLT/XPath 2.0 specifications.

XQuery is probably the most-awaited XML specification at the W3C, as Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle all seem behind it. Whether it will break free of its enormous specifications and W3C XML Schema foundations to solve developers' problems is a question in some quarters, but a question that should be answered sometime this coming year or next.

There's lots more out there, but hopefully these tidbits are interesting enough.

Anything else you're looking forward to in XML for 2003? Not looking forward to?