XML: A richer experience

A decade into the commercially driven Internet and it is now perfectly normal to hear organisations talk about their “legacy web code”. What many are now exploring, though, is how to embrace the next level of Internet development – to make the transformation from rigid, client-server and back-end applications to XML-based environments that support the creation of dynamic and flexible Internet applications.

So what is holding them back? The recent Information Age debate on ‘The Shift to Rich Internet Applications’ explored some of the barriers, as well as the benefits companies are seeking to derive from these new environments.

Many of those present viewed this as an issue closely related to Web 2.0 – the loose collection of web services centred around user-controlled collaboration and content.

“Web 2.0 and mash-ups allow you to cope with fuzziness. Where it gets difficult is where you start dealing with anything that involves transactions.”

Why is this? It may be because technologies such as Ajax and XML provide greatly improved programming capabilities in the client while  enabling the full use of web services to create ‘mash-ups’ of application functionality that pull data from multiple sources.

“Web 2.0 and mash-ups allow you to cope with fuzziness,” said head of development from a major retail company. “Where it gets difficult is where you start dealing with anything that involves transactions.”

One delegate argued that a distinction needs to be made between two different issues: the use of XML on the server, and the development of rich Internet applications on the client which are more to do with technologies such as Ajax and Microsoft Silverlight.

Integration was a common theme. “XML plays the role of a solvent for us,” said another. “It dissolves the solid structures of applications, letting us bring together application services much more easily.”

That solvent is not going to be available to everyone though. Several participants in the debate – in particular, those from the public sector – pointed out that their options when it came to rich web applications were severely limited: “Because of the requirement to create websites that are accessible to everyone, we cannot use things like Ajax or Flash or Flex,” said one health service IT professional. The Government’s accessibility guidelines won’t allow it.”

In terms of the use of XML and web services integration technologies, there were varying levels of sophistication round the table. Some described how they used “XML everywhere – it presents an answer to some of our problems”.  Others were experimenting with mash-ups, with a simple example being cited several times – the grafting of Google Maps onto other web applications.

Users are coming to expect that the kind of fluid combinations of application functionality that they see on the web – say a travel site that incorporates a currency converter – will be something that their IT organisation can provide with internal applications.

“The tide has already turned,” said the application architect for a large energy company. “We are living in an era where the user knows best and we have to react to that.”

That prompted a user-calls-the-shots anecdote from one delegate. A large TV company he had worked for was building a new application set for its call centre workers. However, one part of the process re-engineering was flatly rejected by the workforce: they refused to dispense with the Post-it Note that they would stick to the top right hand corner of their screens, reminding them of the ‘offer of the day’. The IT organisation’s solution: Code all the screen displays to wrap around the Post-it.


Further reading

Extending the information experience Streamlining access and delivery in an XML world.
An Information Age Business Briefing sponsored by Just Systems.

Find more stories in the SOA & Development Business Briefing


Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

Related Topics

Development Process