WASHINGTON, D. C. , Nov. 16, 2004 — Jean Paoli has long believed the most valuable asset for any business is data, and that data can be represented in a simple, recognizable and flexible form that travels from one server to another, from a server to a client workstation, and from application to application, thus fostering universal communication among workers. And he has passionately advocated since 1985 that the technology that can deliver on that vision is XML (eXtensible Markup Language).
Paoli, senior director of XML architecture at Microsoft, is widely recognized as one of the co-creators of the XML 1.0 standard with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and has been a significant player in the worldwide XML community since 1985, when the technology was known as SGML (Standard General Markup Language). He helped jumpstart XML activity at Microsoft beginning in 1996 by creating and managing the team that delivered the software that XML-enabled Microsoft Internet Explorer and Microsoft Windows. Later he helped architect the XML support in the Microsoft Office System and was instrumental in creating the Microsoft Office InfoPath program.
Paoli spoke with PressPass about the XML community’s original vision for the technology, the role Microsoft has played in making that vision real, and the state of XML today.
PressPass: Why do you believe XML is the technology that can enable universal communication for businesses?
Paoli: Businesses thrive on information, but until XML there has not been an easy way to capture that information so that workers could reuse it in meaningful ways, regardless of the system, platform, device or application it was created on. This information is generated by many channels and exists in many forms — as raw data collected from operational systems, as content and documents that are published and shared, and in countless e-mail messages exchanged and stored locally by workers throughout a company. While we have well-established methods for storing and managing some types of data, until recently we haven’t been able to capture a lot of the information created in the business environment in any meaningful way. As a result, while workers everywhere can generate reports, e-mail messages and spreadsheets containing vital information, they traditionally have not been able to reuse that information, unless they went to a lot of trouble to first locate it, and then re-key or reproduce it within the document they are working on.
Jean Paoli, Senior Director, XML Architecture, Microsoft.
Finding a common way to describe the actual meaning contained in a document has been a central focus of the XML community for nearly 20 years. The XML standard, which was defined by the W3C in 1996, is ideally suited for defining all kinds of business information, and documents in particular. Unlike HTML (HyperText Markup Language), which has fixed tags that force users to fit data into general categories that describe only the appearance of text, XML tags are truly extensible, meaning that they only provide a standard way to define tags and relationships, rather than specifying the tags themselves. This flexibility allows for the creation of what are called “semi-structured” documents, or documents that have regions of meaning, in much the same way that columns in a database have meaning. As a result, businesses are able to define the “schema,” or the structure and type of content, that each data element in a document can contain, which allows them to maximize the value of that data by making it available for reuse, indexing, searching, storing, aggregating and other traditional document-management techniques.
Today XML is a widely accepted standard that enables the exchange of data between dissimilar systems, platforms and applications. We have come a very long way in achieving that original vision.
PressPass: How did Microsoft factor into this early vision?
Paoli: Microsoft has been an integral player in the XML movement since its inception. I joined Microsoft in April 1996 because I believed it was a company that had the potential to deliver on the overall vision many of us in the SGML community shared for providing an open format to the masses.
One month after I joined Microsoft, I helped co-found the W3C committee that created XML. While I was on the committee, my main contribution to the design of the XML standard was that I always insisted XML should be a very simple format. Many groups inside Microsoft at the time were looking for a format that would enable data interoperability on the Web. I was part of the group that was building Internet Explorer, along with Adam Bosworth and Andrew Layman, who is now director of Distributed Systems Standards at Microsoft. Soon Bosworth and Layman began helping me convince Microsoft to make the investment in XML. Months later the company was at the forefront of the XML standardization movement, working with others in the industry to submit to the W3C what is considered today the core set of the XML standards, such as XSLT (eXtensible Stylesheet Language Tranformations), Namespaces in XML and schemas. Layman drove the original thinking on XML schemas at Microsoft and co-authored the work on Namespaces in XML at the W3C.
In October 1997, Microsoft launched one of the industrys earliest implementations of the XML standard, Internet Explorer 4.0. It was a very exciting time for those of us in the XML community, which included Sharon Adler, Anders Berglund, Jon Bosak, Tim Bray, James Clark, Steve DeRose, Charles Goldfarb, Dave Hollander, Eliot Kimber, Eve Maler, Makoto Murata, Peter Sharpe, C.M. Sperberg-McQueen, B. Tommie Usdin, myself and so many others. For so many years we had been just a group of text-markup enthusiasts, but with XML integrated into Internet Explorer, it seemed like we were finally realizing our dream of bringing XML to the mainstream.
During this time, more and more developer groups within Microsoft began coding applications using XML because it gave them an easy-to-parse syntax for representing data. In late 1997, Bill Gates announced XML as “a breakthrough technology,” and the company has been singing the praises of and delivering products using XML ever since.
PressPass: How has XML influenced Microsoft’s Web-services vision?
Paoli: Some of the early steps involving XML included incorporating the technology into various Microsoft products, such as Windows, SQL Server and BizTalk Server, which allowed customers to process XML on the server. Building on those initial successes, Bill Gates announced at Forum 2000 that Microsoft was expanding on a comprehensive strategy to make it easier for people to create, access and share information across diverse systems and heterogeneous platforms. This, in turn, became the company’s Web-services vision.
Web services enable applications to share data and invoke capabilities from other applications without regard to how those applications were built, what system or platform they run on, and what devices are used to access them. Today Microsoft and industry partners are building on the XML and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) foundation to deliver secure, reliable and transacted Web services to enable customers to connect systems from multiple vendors and reach out to partners, customer, suppliers in new and dynamic ways.
In 2003, Microsoft brought Web services to the desktop by integrating XML technology into the Microsoft Office System and introducing Microsoft InfoPath, an information-gathering application in the Office family. These milestones allowed documents to be part of the overall exchange of information using Web services with other back-end servers. This was no small accomplishment. Until this point, XML had been used mainly on servers to facilitate enterprise transaction processing and data exchange, but the technology and all its functionality hadn’t been delivered to the desktop. In bringing XML to the hands of the masses — the information workers — Microsoft has made it easier for them to connect to the different islands of data in the enterprise, whether the data is contained in Microsoft Word documents, e-mail messages, an internal company database, or even an external, third-party database.
PressPass: How are customers and partners benefiting from Web services?
Paoli: Since Bill Gates articulated the company’s vision for Web services in 2000, a significant number of companies have implemented real-world, production-environment Web services solutions. Today Web services have become one of the technologies many businesses depend on to reduce costs, extend their investments, and make it easier to plug into their ecosystem of partners, suppliers and customers. And we expect that number to increase dramatically in the near future. According to Forrester Research, Web services are here. In a survey of IT executives that Forrester published in September last year (Web Services Reach the Big Time), 85 percent of respondents planned to deploy Web services [in 2003], up from 71 percent a year ago, and 57 percent of companies who responded plan to deploy customer Web services in 2004. According to research by IDC, 60 percent of respondents indicated their organizations already have Web services initiatives under way, or planned within the next two years. IDC projects that Web services software spending worldwide will be near $3 billion by the end of 2004, reaching $11 billion in 2008 (Worldwide Web Services Software, 2004-2008 Forecast, IDC #31079, August 2004).
Microsoft continues to work with the industry to usher in a new generation of software based on Web services. For example, more than 250,000 developers are using Web Services Enhancements, an add-on to Visual Studio .NET and the .NET Framework that allow developers to build security-enhanced Web services applications based on the latest Web services protocol specifications and standards.
PressPass: How are customers and industry partners benefiting from the work that Microsoft has done with Web services at the desktop?
Paoli: Because documents are an integral part of every business, integrating documents with Web services has been a very important step in executing the company’s Web services vision.
With the XML implementation in Office 2003, we added two highly significant pieces of functionality to the existing rich benefits that Office already afforded. First, we gave customers the option of saving any Microsoft Word document, Excel spreadsheet, Visio diagram, or Access database in XML, which allows those documents to be shared across the organization, whether it’s located on our desktops, on another local server, or across the world via a Web service. But as significant as this new functionality was, an even greater and more innovative benefit was the fact that companies could now actually create their own XML schemas specific to their business, and define the structure and type of data that each data element in a document can contain. This capability opens up a whole new realm of possibilities, not only for end users, but also for the business itself. Now that the data is precisely defined in regions of a document, the software can begin to actually understand that information and help end users interact with it far more than ever before.
In November last year we delivered the Office 2003 XML Reference Schemas, which enable organizations of all sizes to utilize XML technology in managing spreadsheet, word processing and form documents. For me personally and for many of us in the XML community, this was a great achievement that enables true interoperability across heterogeneous systems and allows documents to be archived, restructured, aggregated and reused in new and dynamic ways. The schemas have been adopted by numerous industries, including financial services, insurance, governments, health care and others.
For example, the Danish government has positioned itself at the forefront of the e-government movement by playing a central role in facilitating the exchange of information among public and private organizations and citizens. It sanctioned the Office 2003 XML Reference Schemas for its infrastructure database as an open-document format that is suitable for the needs of various government organizations. We were also extremely gratified in May this year when the European Union’s Interchange of Data between Administrations group (IDA) published its wonderful and positive response for our work on XML in Office, noting that the Office 2003 XML Reference Schemas and our support for customer-defined schemas had greatly improved the potential for interoperability of document processing.
We also welcomed Sun Microsystems’ recent announcement that it intends to build filters between some of the Office 2003 XML Reference Schemas and StarOffice/OpenOffice. JavaWorld Magazine recently published an excellent article, “New Options for Java Reporting: SpreadsheetML and WordprocessingML Ease the Creation of Word and Excel Documents,” describing the ease with which Office 2003 XML formats can be produced on the Java platform. These efforts by Microsoft and Sun are truly paving the way for an increased level of openness and interoperability across systems. I see all of these examples as very good reasons to be enthusiastic about the future of XML on the desktop.
There are many good reasons to be excited about Microsoft’s long involvement in the development of XML and the potential for XML on the desktop and in Web services. We are excited about the potential these technologies bring to our customers, and I look forward to continuing to partner with them, our industry partners and the XML community to realize even greater benefits using this incredible technology.