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XML in Action : Page 2

You know who they are—they're the people and toomakers that the rest of us look to when we're trying to figure out a new technology. They are the innovators.


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XML Innovator: Jim Armstrong
photo of jim armstrong

"Patience, persistence and quality applications are needed to move XML forward in terms of public acceptance."

-- Jim Armstrong, president, 2112 F/X



2112 F/X provides short-term graphic design services and custom programming. Jim Armstrong is 2112 F/X's president; we interviewed him in December 1998 and followed up in October 1999.

How and why are you interested in XML?

1998: "Being a techie at heart, I started reading everything I could about XML as soon as I heard about it. I tend to look for ways to immediately use technology as opposed to being cautious. The downside to such an approach is being positioned "too far" ahead of the game.

"In one instance, I introduced an XML application to a prospective client. I hoped they would be enamored with the possibilities of the technology. At the time, data display was only available in IE4. The client wanted something in Java that would be available across a wider range of browsers. In retrospect, the technology was introduced to this company too early."

1999: "I am always interested in ways to exploit new technology to solve old problems. Equally interesting is the question, 'what potentially useful capabilities are enabled by a new technology?'"

Tell us about the portfolio viewer?

1998: My first major on-line application was an XML-based graphic arts portfolio viewer. People seem to be interested in artwork created with a particular package such as 3DS MAX, Photoshop, etc. One alternative is to create a database on the server and allow viewers to search for images by keyword. I was curious if something similar could be accomplished on the client side to avoid repeated queries to the server. Such capability would be especially useful for viewers who simply wanted to scroll back and forth between descriptions of Photoshop images.

"It was trivial to describe the portfolio in XML. Using XMLDSO and DHTML, I achieved the desired interactivity with only one hit to the server to parse the XML file.

1999: "The XML portfolio viewer debuted in late November 1998. It was originally placed in an experimental 'concept' area of the 2112 F/X site. It was a pure technology presentation with a plain white background and no polish. Now, the XML viewer is more popular than the traditional portfolio presentation! That's good name recognition for XML, but it means I must go back and make the viewer 'look' reasonable. I also need to create a new structure for the XML file to accomodate interest in rich media, not just stills."

What other XML-based projects have you developed?

1998: "Another project was an extension of a DHTML application that generates JavaScript/DHTML from C++ to perform sparse matrix visualization. A C++ class library gathered data and generated DHTML and JavaScript 'on the fly.' Adding XML formatting to the matrix data allowed for easier collation and display of matrix nonzero structure. It is somewhat interesting to know that a nonzero exists at a particular cell in a matrix. It is very interesting to answer the question, 'why is that nonzero at that location?'

1999: "I still believe that 'smart' online displays could benefit from XML. When I visit a traditional store and converse with someone, that person has a fixed amount of knowledge about a product. If I visit an online store, I should be able to interact with the site and extract the same information without placing added strain on the server. A small XML file could contain information regarding Flash demos, detailed product descriptions, QuickTime VR or similar presentations, FAQ lists, cross-sell, sell-up, and related information. DHTML could be used to interactively allow me to zero in on exactly the information I need to make a decision."

You've showed up some DHTML-based games that also use XML?

1999: "That's another emerging application—the area of interactive educational games. I am working on several DHTML games that present multiple choice questions to a player.

"An area of interest is how to present multiple question sets and strategies to the player without a lot of server interaction. The end user will be an educational institution with lots of potential users, but limited funds for servers.

"It would be fun to write a client-side application that loads a question/answer set dynamically from an XML file. Handling dynamic game attributes on the client side frees the institution from having to create and maintain a server-side database. It also provides a simple, uniform mechanism for describing Q/A sets and strategies."

What are XML's advantages?

1999: "The nice thing about XML is that it provides a single mechanism to bring a lot of dissimilar product data into one unified description.

What are the disadvantages of XML?

1998 and 1999: "Same as everything else, making cross-browser display work well!"

What tools are you using for XML?

1998: "I began marking up data by hand, with the assistance of some C++ methods authored specifically for the task of DTD generation and

1999: For browser-based display, XMLDSO and a lot of hand-crafted DHTML are the tools of the moment. XSL and WDDX look interesting, although I have not found time to completely experiment with both. Ultimately, what I want is a simple API to expose the XML tree to JavaScript that works cross-browser. DHTML can do the rest.

What is the future of XML?

1998: "For the web in general, I see XML as an ideal data interchange mechanism. For data sets in which there is some definable structure, XML provides a means to organize that structure."

In the future, I suspect to see substantial gains in client-side ability to manipulate and display such structure."

1999: "For e-commerce, I eventually expect some sort of AI capability executed by server-side script. A standard HTML page would be combined with XML and some client-side scripting, allowing the user to probe for additional information. Such technology could be used for sell-ups, special offers, and as a general convenience to the customer, all driven by a common data description methodology."

What will it take for that to happen, for people to use XML solutions?

1998: "Patience, persistence and quality applications are needed to move XML forward in terms of public acceptance."




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