Saturday, June 10, 2006

XML Shockwave

Why Electronic business is taking off now?

Many believe electronic business is the future of all business. In fact, electronic business is currently going through the transition from early adoption to mainstream. A clear indication is the current trend to integrated "click and brick" solutions:cyberspace integrates with the material world.

The combination of electronic business and existing logistics is very powerful, a win-win situation for online traders, existing businesses and customers. We believe that this trend will continue and introduce electronic business as an integral part of any business. Even gas stations have Web shops nowadays. Just have a look at bpexpress.de, a flashy site resulting from a cooperation between BP and Software AG.

but electronic business is more than online shops. Electronic businesses includes all areas where transactions between individuals or organizations take place:

B2C (Business to Commerce) includes online shops, and also includes sales channels to content-related sites, online banking and other financial services. Non-tangible goods such as delivered directly over the Internet. Increasing bandwidth will finally allow video on demand. In contrast, tangible goods require solid and effective logistics solutions.

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XML: The Rising Tide
There are three reasons why XML is transforming the software industry at breakneck speed:

1. XML defines an open and flexible standard for storing publishing and exchanging any kind of information. This frees business information from proprietary data formats and renders it readable forever. This is a radical innovation and breakthrough improvement opportunity for companies suffering from the "DB-mess" (DBMSs) that was created by 40 years of fierce competition between database vendors.
2. XML is easy to understand and learn. Both people and machines can interpret XML information without much effort. This is radically different from any other data description standard of the past two decades. Here is an absolutely valid sample of XML code.

<price>

<currency> USD </currency>
<amount> 99.95 </amount>

</price>


In XML content is marked with "tags" which clearly describe the content. In contrast, data stored in classic database systems is cryptically coded, so that there is no way to determine whether "99.95" is a percentage, a price, or a speed limit. In an open environment like the Internet marked up content can be understood by any potential partner.

3. XML is a standard driven by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the same organization that is setting the overall direction for the web. And most importantly, huge end-users like General Motors, DaimlerChrysler, governments and health care institutions are directly involved in the direction of XML-related standards.

For these reasons, major industry leaders are putting hundreds of millions of dollars into building system technology and applications based on XML. Any organization that is ready for this innovation will benefit.

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The Origin of XML

XML was completed in early 1998 by the W3C and has since spread like wildfire through universities, scientific institutions, research labs and industries ranging from manufacturing to health care. This surprisingly quick adoption of XML is driven by the hope that it will solve some of the fundamental problems the Web has today. While the Web is theoretically a light-speed network, it sometimes resembles a "World Wide Wait." And although the Web probably presents the biggest online information library mankind has ever had, it is still extremely frustrating how many clicks are needed to get to the information needed.

Both of these problems can be traced back to the basic nature of the Web's main language, the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). Although HTML is possibly the most successful electronic publishing language ever invented, it lacks depth in essential features. In essence, it describes how a Web browser should arrange text, pictures or graphics on the screen. HTML's main focus on appearances makes it a snap to learn, even for non-programmers, but this ease of use has some nasty side effects when trying to build serious business applications.

One problem is that it is difficult to create Web sites that do more than act as a fancy fax machine, sending you a document when you ask for it. Global companies are under ever increasing pressure to build websites that take orders from customers, transit transaction records, or even run production equipment or assembly lines from halfway across the planet. HTML was never designed for such a job.

One of the deficiencies of HTML is its inability to handle semantic markup. For example, the HTML expression <BOLD> Seal </BOLD> denotes that "Seal" is to be displayed in bold letters, but does not define what it is: a rubber gasket, a rock artist, a marine animal, or an elite group of the US Navy command. What is needed is a language that can semantically markup content. But because semantic markup depends on the application domain, a semantic markup language needs to be extensible to cater for all existing and future applications.

To solve this problem, the members of W3C began working on an extension to the HTML specification in 1996. The working group did not start from scratch. the initial proposal was based on an already existing specification called the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML). SGML is an ISO standard and had already served as the foundation for HTML. The group worked hard to scale down the excessive complexity of the 500 page SGML standard to just 26 specification pages. They arrived at a concise, easy to understand data description language, called the extensible Markup Language.

XML provides software developers with a mechanism to easily create their own information labels, called tags. By using XML, companies can begin to set corporate and industry standards about the way information is to be described and structured. Basically, XML consists of rules and conventions that allow anyone to create his or her own markup language from scratch, or to extend existing markup languages to match his or her requirements.

What most CEOs don't know is that all the Web application projects of the past five years are about to become legacies because they are not based on XML. Even HTML will eventually be replaced by its successor XHTML which is based on the more strict standards of XML. Make sure you look into this with your Internet Applications group.


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XML basics

Because of its simplicity, XML has the potential to solve significant performance and programming problems for building business applications on the Web. The tag set programmers can build in XML are like a language that neatly describes the meaning of information specific to one application. XML, therefore, is a language to create languages, often called a meta language. Here is an example:

<Address>

<Name>

<FirstName> John </FirstName>
<LastName> Paul </LastName>

</Name>
<Phone>

<business> 089-3939321 </business>
<home> 0893423443 </home>
<mobile> 0170-4949233 </mobile>

</Phone>

</Address>


This example could be called the Address Markup Language, which is completely compliant with the XML specification. The tags are marked by brackets, and are used to describe the content of a document. Each tag defines an element type. The example above contains seven elements: Address, FirstName, LastName, Phone, business, home, mobile. The elements Address and phone Contain other elements, while the elements FirstName, LastName, business, home, mobile contain text data.

Now, wait a minute. What is so special here? Weren't we able to store addresses before the advent of XML?

Of course we were. But in a file system or a relational database the record above would look similar to this:
John,Paul,089-3939321,089-3423443,0170-4949233

You can already see where the trouble is. Separated from the data record, we cannot decide what is the first name and what is the last name. And what do all the numbers mean? This knowledge is contained in the application that created the record. Without this application the data is worthless. If you send this record to a business partner without further explanation, he or she is in trouble.

Here is just one example of what can happen when data is incompletely tagged at all. On September 23, 1999, NASA's Mars Climate Orbiter vanished behind Mars, never to be seen again. this mishap was caused by the fact that a software module "Small Forces" in the ground control station used English units while the shuttle assumed metric units. This error occurred because the data was transmitted as plain numbers, not decorated with tags or units. the incorrect thrust data caused the loss of the vehicle.

Not so with XML. By tagging every data item, we are able to understand the data record even when we do not know the application that created the record. Because the data is self-describing, this also enables partners to understand and process it. The data will be understood long after the applications that created it grow obsolete. You certainly can imagine what this means for electronic business. It's pure dynamite.

The other simple but powerful idea in XML is that it is extensible. This allows programmers to reuse existing XML document types by extending then with new tags. The core elements of the new document type, however, will still be understood by all other users of the original document type. The golden rule for the development of XML schemata is therefore not, "Do everything from scratch" but, "Adopt and adapt." You can adopt existing and proven solutions and adapt them to your purposes.

For example, if we want to define a Titled Address Markup Language, we can refer to our Address Markup Language defined above but simply add another element <Title>.

<Address>

<Name>

<Title> Dr </Title>
<FirstName> John </FirstName>
<LastName> Paul </LastName>

</Name>
<Phone>

<business> 089-3939321 </business>
<home> 0893423443 </home>
<mobile> 0170-4949233 </mobile>

</Phone>

</Address>


For users of the original Address Markup Language the new document is still meaningful. They can simply ignore the new element <Title>.

XML is so simple that even non-programmers can develop tag sets in a matter of hours. Tag sets (or document types) can be easily defined for specific applications. These documents can then be interpreted and processed with standard XML tools


Now, with the invention of XML we are seeing another revolution in publishing. The author has dubbed this revolution "push button publishing" because it will enable companies to define a mechanism fro sending information to any kind of output device at the push of a button. The element of XML that will enable this is called style sheets. If you have ever used a desktop publishing system such as Adobe Pagemaker or even Microsoft Word then you have probably experienced the joy (or pain) of watching the layout of your document change instantaneously in front of your eyes. This ability to reformat documents changed the pre-print industry after 1984 (with the advent of the Apple Macintosh). It led to the restructuring of the internal organisation of many enterprises that could now won the power of publishing into the hands of their knowledge workers. XML takes this capability to the next level.



Users and programmers can apply rules organized into "style sheets" to reformat XML documents automatically for various devices. The standard that is being developed underneath of the XML umbrella is called the extensible Style sheet Language (XSL). The latest version of several Web browsers can read an XML document, fetch the appropriate style sheet and use it to sort and format the information on the screen. The reader might never know he's looking at an XML document, rather than an HTML document, except that XML sites are faster and easier to use. Even people with visual disabilities can benefit from the concept of push-button publishing. Style Sheets will enable application programmers to render information in optimal form for output on display or printer, in Braille for the blind, or as audible speech for people that cannot read. Commuters on their way to work might prefer to have the Web News read to them as opposed to balancing their laptop computer on the steering wheel while trying to plug in their mobile phone.



With XML style sheets, you can not only influence the look and feel of the information you send to output devices such as printers, Web browsers, mobile telephones or soda machines, but you can also control what information is being published. This is a key requirement for enabling the new economy. As customers become more and more used to the fact that they can be online all the time, they will require you to send them the relevant information with correct level of detail. XML style sheets will drastically reduce the cost and time it takes companies to deliver the information to whomever they need and in the appropriate format. At the same item, customer satisfaction and loyalty will go up if you are ready to give them the information they need, on-time and with the right level of detail. So in short, XML will evolve the field of publishing form "reusable type," invented 600 years ago, to "reusable documents, " invented at the end of the millennium by the W3C. XML will take online publishing to an industrial level, in the same way as Gutenberg's hot metal letters industrialized medieval book printing.



Electronic

We are living in the Age of E. Web publishers are bombarding the market daily with e-mail, e-zines, newspapers, and books that speak about e-Business, e-Commerse, e-Government, e-Company and so on. Pundits and laymen alike want you to believe that if you don't move to "E", you will have an e-Mergency. Many of us on the receiving end have expressed the urge to say: e-Nough. So, what is behind this?

If you really spend some time thinking about tit you will realize that the hype around "electronic" actually has nothing to do with the Web. It has nothing to do what computer hardware you have installed, or which programming model you follow. It really has nothing to do with putting people in front of Internet browsers so they can type in an order. There are still an unbelievable number of companies that have claimed success in e-Commerce, yet are faxing the order forms received from their Website to their suppliers who have to retype them.

In our opinion, "electronic" in the context of electronic business, means the "complete automation of a business transaction across organisation boundaries." This is of course should include Internet access for your customers so they can use their Internet browser software to directly enter their ordering information into the order processing system of you company. The most important aspect of electronic business, however is the ability for machines to speak to machines.

Note: if this sounds like a science fiction to you, we urge you to wake up and smell the coffee. Java and XML technologies are making machine to machine communication easier than ever before. XML fees information from the shackles of proprietary data formats used in application programs, Java frees applications from the shackles of proprietary hardware and software architectures. One could say that XML and Java are a marriage made in heaven.


Exchange

Up to now, the average CEO and CIO have been thinking of their information technology (IT) as something that concerns their corporation on an internal level. Most of them are still visualizing IT as being about users in front of screens, entering, evaluating, and formatting information. In the Age of E, however, information technology achieves a mission critical function by providing the mechanisms and standards for the exchange of information i.e. for the opening up of the corporation to a global business environment based on the Internet.

As you know, it has become vital for many enterprises to be connected to email. Now, it is becoming just as important to integrate the supply chain of your company with the ordering systems of your supply chain partners. And you won't be able to do this by having your employees retype the information into the system. The expensive enterprise resource planning system (ERP) you installed in simply not geared up for this challenge. And the fancy Web shops you can buy from the dime-a-dozen Silicon valley DOT COMS won't get you there either. They are simply not sophisticated enough for the task of automated communication.

Here are some examples of what we mean: warehouse shelves talking to restocking systems, factory assembly lines talking to parts manufacturers or databases, power plants talking to emergency response systems. All of these examples are not the stuff taken from the latest science fiction novel or film. These applications exist here and now. The fact is, however, that prior to the arrival of XML, it has been notoriously difficult to achieve this kind of information exchange.

Opinion: "From our perspective, corporate purchasing is the killer app for XML … we see supply-chain automation as the next killer app." James, Director of business frameworks, Microsoft.


Documents

Why are documents a hot item for XML and electronic business? Haven't we had documents for the past 3000 years? Yes, and this is precisely the point. Business continues to run based on the exchange of documents. Electronic or not, orders, invoices, status reports, contracts, brochures, etc., will be prepared, shipped received, sorted, tracked, queried and so on. As more and more of these documents are becoming digital, they will also contain more and more multimedia content such as pictures, digital signatures, etc.

On top of this, the volume of electronic documents will grow exponentially as more and more users link to the Web and drive up the demand for electronic documents. Banks, insurance companies and other industries have the legal obligation to store business documents for decades. How will they ensure the new digital documentation will be readable 30 years from now? Today they are mostly dealing with simple information, the ABC and 1-2-3s of computing. In electronic business over the Internet, however, they will have to manage and exchange more and more new types of information, including Web pages and application components. In fact, enterprises will have to store and, if necessary, reference this information very reliably and very quickly.

XML offers a brilliant solution here as well. With the standards related to XML, companies can describe the content, relationship and meaning of any kind of document. And, since XML is self-describing, this information will remain readable forever, even if the applications that created it are long gone and forgotten.

Of course, since the millions of stored documents must be retrievable, a reliable, efficient search mechanism must be provided. Searching the Web is currently a laborious activity. Even the simplest of queries can cause results set of many thousands of Web pages, and even more qualified queries can be equally "successful" For example, the query "stock quote yahoo" entered at lycos.com, resulted in over 19,000 hits. The reason is that the search algorithm reports all documents that contain these three words anywhere in the text. This is necessary because HTML does not markup documents semantically. So the search algorithm not only finds documents that contain Yahoo's stock quote but also any stock quote published by Yahoo. With HTML searches, you don't find the needle in the haystack – instead you are presented with all the haystacks containing needles for lengthy and time-comsuming evaluation.

XML documents, on the other hand, structure information entities into separate elements that are nicely labelled with tags. This makes it much easier to pinpoint the specific document of interst. An XML query can therefore be much more specific:

Stock_quote[company="yahoo"]

Which translate into plain English means: find all documents of type stock_quote that contain an element

<company>yahoo</company>

If this is precise enough, the query can be easily narrowed down:

Stock_quote[company="yahoo"

And year ="2000"

And exchange="new york"

And publisher="e-trade"]


Single Sentence Summary: XML enables the Storage, Publishing and Exchange of Electronic Documents, which is the foundation for any kind of electronic business.



XML-based Web Applications

What we have described up to now is just the beginning of the revolution that XML is about to drive. Everyone knows that libraries would be fairly useless without a librarian to sort the books into shelves, and without a catalogue to see which books are available. In technological terms, the job of the XML Librarian is going to be performed by an XML databases management system (XDBMS). The library catalog, i.e. the information about the information, is commonly referred to as meta data. It is these two areas, database management and meta data for business information, that will be revolutionized by XML.

Many of you have probably heard of applications that enable enterprises to deal more effectively with distributing information and knowledge. We would like to mention four application types that will be completely transformed by XML.


Electronic data interchange to the power of XML

The recent growth of retail sales over the Web driven by companies such as Amazon.com has drawn much attention and has lead to


XML Application Integration

Application integration has been a booming business since the late 1900s due to the explosive adoption of packaged application in enterprises world-wide. As these enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems were deployed, it quickly became clear that there were massive integration gaps between the new and the old application environments. These gaps needed to be filled with connectivity products, often referred to as middleware or enterprise application integration products. XML will also completely turn this area upside down. Prior to the XML Shockwae, application integration endors were building messaging and connectivity systems based on proprietary internal message formats. This was good for endors, but bad for customers, as the applications built at the customer site had to comply with the proprietary programming interfaces.

This situation has been improving since the mid 1990s when so-called component standards like COBRA, COM, and EJB evolved in the labs of


Standard Elevator Information Schema

The Standarad Elevator Information Schema is a mechanism for communicating static information, such as configuration details, current status such as position and assigned calls and eents such as call registrations and car tips, between all manner of systems and users of passenger elevators. Information is sent between systems in the form of messages that can be interpreted both by computer systems human readers.


Based on XML

The idea of a standard language for communicating elevator information is not in itself new but recent advances in software technology, based on extensible Markup Language (XML), remove a number of technical barriers. By employing XML, if can benefit immediately from third party development tools and software libraries that are already publicly available. It also conforms automatically to a widely accepted format for messaging. This leaves developers free to concentrate on those aspects of design that are the unique concern elevator engineers.


Scope of the Standard

The Standard is designed to be universally applicable and is envisaged as being the medium for communicating a wide variety of messages within the elevator industry application domain. For example:

Hardware events such as call button presses, door operation, etc that would drive car and group controllers.

Time (and date) stamped logged data, such as would be communicated to mimic and monitoring equipment. This could equally be output by
- operational controllers (both single car and group) or
- from simulation programs.

Analysis data, such as average system response time and a performance index for monitoring and fault diagnosis.

Traffic and system configuration data for defining simulation runs.


(NB although the above list talks about controllers, loggers, etc. there is no requirement for the information to be passed over communications link between two pieces of hardware. The Standard is equally valid for communication between software components that may well be running on the same computer hardware).

The above diagram is an example of a variety of application scenarios where each arrow is a flow of XML data conveying run-time information between the different components of a control and monitoring network.

Contents and Availability

The standard is supplied as a set of files including:

User Guide.

"Liftinfo.XSD" – The syntactic and semantic definition of the standard.

Examples of the usage of the Standard:
Simulation Run
Group Controller configuration
Remote Performance Monitor
Event Data Log
In-service Record

The Standard is freely available on the Internet to be used as widely as possible, without charge, by anyone who can benefit from it. The only condition of use is that the copyright of the author be acknowledged I any application where it is employed.

For further information, detailed definitions and downloadable examples please refer to the Internet web-site of the Standard Elevator Information Schema at: www.std4lift.info


Introduction of Web Languages

There are several different types of web languages available, the most common ones: HTML, XML, XHTML, WML and others.

SGML

Standard Generalised Mark-up Language (SGML) is the great ancestor for all markup languages like HTML and XML. It is built up of simple tags which began with "<" and ends with ">". The tags can be of any letter or word chosen to suit human understanding; it can also be called namespaces. It is simple, easy to understand and it can be easily edited with any format of ASCII text editor. However it has some shortcomings when it comes to setting a standard format for computer to understand and not extensible.

Example: <topic title>Electric Cable

HTML

HTML which stands for Hyper Text Mark-up Language is the most common use web language. It has been used as a method to display information and hyper link between pages. Despite the slight difference, it was still ultimately derived from SGML. HTML is designed to display information and equipped with methods of how information should look like. Some simple styling features like bold, italic, underline and others. The format of HTML makes it very simple to learn and easy to understand, in such a way that almost anybody is capable of writing it.

It was not long when businesses on the Internet spark into a boom with the ease of styling information and linking web pages. Ecommerce business started to appear everywhere evolving into a brand new way of doing business and living. Since it was just designed to display information, it does nothing else.

HTML tags are predefined for compatibility reasons across browsers. Any errors in the tags, like improper use of tags, would cause pages to render improperly.

Example: <p>the maximum temperature is <br> <b>90</b> degrees.


XML

XML stands for Extensible Mark-up Language and it's very much similar to HTML and SGML. However, it was designed to describe data in a simple readable structured format, ease of exchanging data, and to focus on what data is. It was introduced around the time HTML was available and it was never meant to replace HTML because it was designed with a different purpose.

XML tags are not predefined and have to be defined by the author. This makes it very powerful and extensible (hence the name). Any author can define any type of tags for whatever reasons to suit their individual engineering needs. This is also especially useful to categorise or organise different data under different tags, also allowing machine to understand these data with some simple programming.

Note that since it has no set of tags predefined, someone would have to write a piece of software to understand XML documents. These software can send, receive or display the contents of the XML documents. In the world of Internet browsing, some form of standard format is still required. Hence, XML uses a Document Type Definition (DTD) or an XML schema to describe data. Anybody can write a DTD schema but there are some available from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) recommendation for XML.

Not having a predefined set of tags means that XML is free and extensible. The author has the power to invent any tags as wished. XML is a cross-platform, software and hardware independent tool for transmitting information. Hence, it is the most suitable web interface chosen for our engineering needs where any form of data can be manipulated with a simple piece of programming software.

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