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XML in Action : Page 4

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: Doug Copeland
Doug Copeland Sites intent on raw visual appeal will continue to use WYSIWIG editors, but XML in combination with XSL is really exciting for larger sites that have a lot of semi-structured information."

Name: Doug Copeland
Company: Media Semantics
Title: President

Media Semantics, Inc. is a software R&D firm that develops manipulative and agent-based technology for use in software products. They've discovered XML to be useful for creating and organizing complicated structures more efficiently than other technologies. In one current project Media Semantics is working closely with NextBook Corporation, a company that uses an agent-based interface for its multimedia textbooks.



What exactly does your company do?

"We develop custom ActiveX controls that can be embedded in standalone applications or in a Web page. They are display surfaces that allow us to really push the envelope in terms of the user experience. For example, we are currently working on a project in which a user can manipulate mathematical equations in conjunction with an animated instructor character.

How are you using XML?

"We use custom XML tagsets to let our client author just about everything, from annotated text and equations, to user task information and agent scripting information.

"Our use of XML is a little unorthodox, in that we have chosen to compile the XML at author-time, in much the same way that one compiles a C++ program. We do this for performance -- our runtime needs to handle huge amounts of XML, and ultimately this data has to be translated to compact structures such as C++ objects and predicates. The overhead of parsing an XML file to thousands of running COM objects (one per XML element) is just too great for us to use the browser's built-in parser and Document Object Model.

"Compiled binary streams, on the other hand, can be rapidly loaded and acted on by a small and fast runtime. We also do it for authorability. XML seems quite authorable in theory, but it quickly becomes very tedious with needless nesting. The compilation step allows us to do more parsing. For example, our client can write a mathematical equation as "3*X^2 + 2*x-1= 0," rather than 20 lines of nested elements.

What made you select XML?

"We needed a language in which to efficiently express very complex structure.

We knew the language would have to evolve over time.

"We knew that XML, because of its extensibility, was bound to become very widely adopted.

"Even though we are not overly concerned about interoperability for now, we want to be able to offer support for any useful namespaces and standards that evolve."

What programs or applications are you using to implement XML?

"We use the standard Microsoft Developer Studio editor, together with our own custom-developed compilers and a linker."

What's in the future for XML products?

"I would like to see a syntax coloring and background validation for XML in my editor. I look forward to using an XSL processor if for no other reason than as a sophisticated author-time transformation tool. There is nothing worse than changing the schema and having to revisit large quantities of XML!"

And the future of XML itself?

"I certainly agree with those who evangelize XML as an interchange format, for file formats, EDI-(Electronic Data Interchange) type applications, etc. XML will no doubt be an important part of an emerging type of next-generation distributed 'web-apps.'

"Sites intent on raw visual appeal will continue to use WYSIWIG editors, but XML in combination with XSL is really exciting for larger sites that have a lot of semi-structured information. An investment in separating content from presentation will pay for itself by making data easier to author and maintain while allowing the presentation to be independently adapted to by different audiences by designers."





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