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XML Reference : Page 7

In this section, we provide additional resources for XML, including links to XML parsers and XML tool vendors. We also explain the XML-related technologies, from DTD to XQL, provide a list of links to specifications, drafts, and additional information about these related technologies.




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XML and Microsoft Office 2000
We see frequent quuestions on the relationship between Office 2000 and XML. Our research shows that there is a relationship, but it isn't quite what rumor holds it to be:

Microsoft is an active supporter of XML and various XML initiatives. It is also incorporating XML support and XML structure in its various products.

Microsoft is a perfect example of a company that needs - as an end user - a solution like XML. It has data that needs to move across different platform, without losing its meaning.

One place this is very obvious is in its Office suite. Its customers want to move data between applications and also to share data with other users who may or may not be using the same applications or the same versions of applications.

Remember, XML is a Markup Language. All a markup language does is identify pieces of a document so that another application can do something with those pieces. All word processors have a markup language. In early days of text processing, WordStar, XyWrite, and Word Perfect used to let you see and edit their markup code; Word and MacWrite usually didn't.

Traditionally, markup languages were specific to an application. But what if you want to see a document and don't own the exact same application in which it was created? There's always ASCII, but that strips out most of the meaning. So we saw the rise of interchange formats. For text, Microsoft turned to Rich Text Format (.rtf) as its solution. The .rtf format provided a structure for opening up, say, a Word/Macintosh file in a Word/PC program or a Word Perfect program, but it was hardly the ideal solution.

Three years ago, Microsoft decided an emerging markup language called XML, in combination with HTML and CSS, provided a better option for marking up data.

The goal, says Marc Olson, Microsoft Group Program Manager, was "to use HTML to make Office documents universally viewable by anyone with a browser on any platform. Embedded XML tags are used as a means for Office to re-open the HTML document with no loss of information or quality." Microsoft is using the phrase "document round-tripping" to describe this back and forth process.

Given the seemingly endless buzz around both XML and Microsoft, word on the street was that Office 2000 was to be an XML application. This notion quickly segued into a series of questions and complaints that Office 2000 doesn't "support" XML correctly. As with many other XML stories, there's a bit of truth and a lot of confusion in the XML/Office 2000 relationship.

Microsoft is itself using an application of XML to create to underlying structure for the data in Office 2000 documents. It is not offering up Word as an XML editing tool or a means of creating well-formed documents. It is not saying that its XML application is a "standard." Rather, the Office 2000 example is a good case study of how a company can apply the extensibility and metadata capabilities of XML to find a solution for itself. In the Office 2000 case, Microsoft is the "customer" of the technology, not the vendor.

"Creating a standard format wasn't the goal for Office 2000" says Olson. "It was to find a way to let people view a document, regardless of whether they own Program X. If they have a browser that supports HTML, they can view any Office 2000 file. HTML provides the viewing framework while XML provides the framework for data stored within that HTML document."

Office uses XML in a very specific way—to structure the non-viewable contents of Word, PowerPoint, and Excel files. It has developed a set of tags and a data schema that defines the Office 2000 document set, much as you or I might create a set of tags and data schema for our "Flying Widget documentation set" or our inventory of tropical fish.

Within the Office 2000 document is a namespace tag that identifies the schema. When a browser or other program that can display HTML sees the Office 2000 document, it uses the schema and its associated style information to first process and then display the document. When Office200 applications open a document, they use the schema to access the underlying XML data structure.

Some schemas are private, while other others are publicly published. Microsoft has published its Office 2000 documents at http://www.msdn.microsoft.com/library. You have to navigate a little to get to it but the material is under Office Developer Documentation, Office 2000 Documentation, Microsoft Office HTML and XML reference.

So does Office 2000 use XML? Yes and no. It is an example of how one document set applies XML to meet a specific goal and that's very exciting. But it isn't the magic XML bullet - it is an application that shows that the "extensible" concept does indeed live up to its name.

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