A Java truce could lead to XML war

The ongoing cold war between the proponents of Java and the folks in Redmond, Washington, is showing signs of thawing. Driving that process is a realisation within Microsoft that there's not much it can do at this point to halt Java's momentum. In fact, the biggest story at last week's JavaOne conference was the sheer number of developers who showed up. For the first time, the attendance at a Java conference easily rivalled attendance at any Microsoft Professional Developer's Conference.

Until the release date for NT 5.0 started slipping, Microsoft had hoped to establish the Distributed Component Object Model and the Microsoft Transaction Server as de facto standards before Enterprise JavaBeans architectures could take hold. That doesn't seem likely anymore. That's why Microsoft needs to take a more conciliatory approach toward Enterprise Java in the form of alliances with middleware companies.

But that's only a short-term strategy borne out of necessity. IT managers can expect to see Microsoft promote the Extensible Markup Language (XML) as the great new cure for everything that ails the Web and the industry as whole.

No, Microsoft hasn't suddenly seen the open standards light. It's just that Redmond would rather rally behind any standard but Java.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Java has enough momentum to carry it forward, and XML, as a context-rich, data-neutral file format, is probably the most important new technology development of the last two years. The key task for customers will be to throw their weight behind the developing World Wide Web Consortium specifications for XML in order to prevent any vendor from deploying de facto extensions that would undermine the real value of XML.

So the question is, are IT managers willing to be proactive about influencing the guidance of new XML data formats, or are they going to sit back and let the same haphazard process that clouded the development of HTML, Java and a host of other technologies continue to rule the day?

(Write to me at michael_vizard@infoworld.com.)

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