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MS and XML - The Steamroller Pushes Ahead
Monday, April 11 2005 @ 10:10 AM EDT

Of course, it had to happen. Microsoft is crowing about Massachusetts allowing their XML to be called Open Format:

Organizations of all stripes, from healthcare and financial services to manufacturing and legal services, are embracing XML support in Microsoft Office to exchange data among heterogeneous systems, platforms and applications. And nowhere is this trend more evident than in government. Just last month, for instance, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in issuing a policy to use "open format" software, endorsed XML schemas such as Microsoft Office's WordprocessingML for helping to achieve data interoperability in public-sector IT systems. Such confirmation sounds a familiar theme -- the European Union and Denmark last year recognized that the use of open-document formats such as WordprocessingML greatly improve interoperability.

Jean Paoli, Microsoft's senior director of XML architecture, is at the Gilbane Conference on Content Management Technologies. He is "one of the co-creators of the XML 1.0 standard with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)", and he's debating today Tim Bray, director of Web Technologies at Sun, and John Udell, lead analyst at InfoWorld, in the keynote debate, "Microsoft & Sun: What is the Right XML Strategy for Information Interchange?"

I have an idea. How about neither of them gets to pick the winner? How about someone who has no financial stake in the outcome gets to choose? And no bribes allowed. How would that be?

Refreshing, for starters.

Incidentally, if you are looking to migrate from Windows to Linux, here's a fine roadmap. If you wish to leave Solaris for Linux, here are some tools.

Microsoft has one of their phony PR interviews with itself, in which it asks employee Paoli some questions about government use of their proprietary XML:

PressPass: How are governments embracing XML?

Paoli: On March 25, Massachusetts issued an open-format policy (www.mass.gov/itd/etrmversion3/techrefmodelv3.htm) that includes the Office XML file format in the commonwealth's list of accepted formats for creating and archiving government documents. We are extremely pleased that these new scenarios that are enabled by XML and Office can serve e-government needs such as those of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

In addition, the Danish government last year sanctioned the Office 2003 XML reference schemas for its infrastructure database as an open document format that is suitable for the needs of various government organizations. And the European Union also noted last year that the Office 2003 reference schemas and our support for customer-defined schemas had greatly improved the potential for interoperability of document processing.

XML is also integral to the United States Federal Enterprise architecture, and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the E-Government Act of 2002 both actively endorse the technology. The OMB adopted a set of custom-defined schemas in XML, and then Microsoft partner BearingPoint worked closely with the OMB and Microsoft to develop a solution, based on an InfoPath 2003 form and the custom-defined schema, that provides the same look and feel as a government form that the OMB uses. So workers can populate documents with information based on this format and then send that information via e-mail or using Web services.

The Colorado Department of Agriculture, which used to rely on a manual, paper-based process for inspecting feed-commodity facilities, now uses a custom Office solution developed by Microsoft partner Bfirst Solutions that automates the data collection, analysis and notification process to maintain the integrity of the state's agricultural supply. Field agents record the results of their inspections using notebook computers and Microsoft InfoPath 2003 XML forms using custom-defined schema that details the data collection in the XML structure, and then they send that information in an XML form to the Colorado Department of Agriculture. The result is a more efficient system that collects field data with greater accuracy and ensures more timely notification and response to potential threats to public safety.

And the United Nations' Economic Commission for Europe has been working on an XML project, called UNeDocs (United Nations Extensions for aligned electronic trade documents), to draft XML-based electronic documents that are equivalent to paper trade documents and based on existing Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) standards. Because EDI is an expensive technology, its use has been relegated largely to enterprises that can afford it, but XML promises to make the electronic exchange of business documents more affordable for smaller organizations. Microsoft has been working with the United Nations to develop InfoPath XML forms that support their custom-defined schema.

So there you have the plan, Stan. Here's the UNeDocs project, if you want to look at what they are doing. They define UNeDocs like this, in their whitepaper:

UNeDocs aims to become the world electronic trade document standard under UN auspices and will be developed into an official UN/CEFACT standard.

UNeDocs is a simple and low cost answer for the exchange of document-based data. It incorporates international standards for efficient and secure trade.

UNeDocs has been designed to provide a migration from paper to paperless trade and letting small and medium enterprises in developed and developing countries to participate in advanced supply chains.

By using UNeDocs documents, traders and Governments adhere to international trade standards and best business practices.

UNeDocs is built upon the United Nations Layout key, the world standard for International trade documents in paper format. UNeDocs documents incorporate UN/CEFACT trade facilitation recommendations and electronic business standards.

UNeDocs documents can be generated in paper, XML, PDF and EDI format, thus delivering a powerful migration tool from a paper to a paper-less environment.

Key documents for trade (invoice, custom declaration, shipping instruction, forwarding instruction, . . . ) are implemented in UNeDocs. UNeDocs documents can be adapted to take into account specific country/industry requirements.

UNeDocs is an open and technology-neutral solution that can be easily implemented by SMEs and large companies alike. UNeDocs documents can be visualized using a standard Internet browser or can be implemented in standard office software.

UNeDocs has been developed by UNECE. UNECE's mission is to support the development of standards, tools and recommednations designed to facilitate the development of trade and to promote their implementation in UNECE member countries, with special emphasis in transition economies.

Here's my question. Can a country that has chosen Free and Open Source Software, like Brazil, participate easily and freely? Before you answer, here's the Microsoft footprint. However, in fairness, so far as I can see, the copyright notice allows source modification and distribution. The project says: "The United Nations provides the UNeDocs.InfoPath documentation and sources under a license free of charge." So far, I haven't been able to find the license. Gold star to whoever finds it first. (You don't suppose they mean Microsoft's icky XML Reference Schema Patent License, do you? Can't be, unless we want to start defining some terms, like "free".) However, on page 11 of their PDF on their UNeDocs InfoPath specs, we find this:

3.6. .Net Platform UNeDocs.InfoPath uses .NET framework as its managed code for scripting, which helps to integrate with organizationsí databases and servers. With Visual Basic.net, UNeDocs.InfoPath leverages full advantage of .NET framework with easy integration to enterprise solutions like web services, SQL Server, Biz-talk server, etc.

You can see the forms they have come up with here. What I'd do, if I were a conscienceless corporation willing to do any dirty thing to win in the marketplace, is coopt standards so that it is just too hard to leave my products. And if I were on the other side, I'd be researching every standards body on the planet and banging on their doors, making sure they understand the issues the FOSS community has and ensuring that there is an even playing field. Otherwise, the game will be over before we even know it's being played. I had never even heard of UNeDocs until today. That's not good.

UPDATE: Icebarron foung this paper with some background information on Sun, XML and the UBL initiative.


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