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((((((((((((((((( WEBREFERENCE UPDATE NEWSLETTER ))))))))))))))))) April 6, 2000


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1. CONTESTS: Submit & Win: Director 8 Shockwave Studio! 2. FEATURED REVIEW: XML: A Primer 3. NET NEWS: * Netscape 6 PR1 Released * Microsoft Responds With New IE Beta, Opera Sings Own Tune * Court: Programming Languages Covered by First Amendment * Strong Differences In Net Usage Between Countries In Europe * When Dotcoms Become Dotbombs ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 1. CONTESTS:

>Submit & Win: Director 8 Shockwave Studio!

Every Thursday, the Update features a new article contributed by our readers through our Open Publishing Initiative. We encourage you to submit your own article ideas - your words could be here, being read by thousands of other subscribers. And now, writers that get published in the newsletter will earn themselves a copy of Macromedia's brand new Director 8 Shockwave Studio! To learn more about this great multimedia Web authoring suite and how to submit your article idea, just head to:


This week, Gordon Rose reviews Simon St. Laurent's "XML: A Primer." In this book, St. Laurent offers a big picture view of XML, it's relationship to existing markup languages, and how XML will be used in the real world.

Thanks for the article Gordon, and enjoy your copy of the Director 8 Shockwave Studio!

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\--------------------------------------------------------------adv.-/ ****************************************************************** ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 2. FEATURED REVIEW: XML: A Primer

"XML: A Primer" is a fine book that gracefully brings the uninitiated into the world of XML (eXtensible Markup Language). While few of us as Web developers are sure of where XML fits into our lives today, we can all be relatively certain that XML is going to be important - if not essential - in the none too distant future. If this describes your take on XML, then this book is for you.

Author Simon St. Laurent begins the book with a highly effective presentation of how XML has evolved out of current Web standards, and why its future is so promising. St. Laurent accomplishes this by taking the reader through the origins of the Web and of HTML, and then through a discussion of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). An understanding of CSS allows the user to grasp the value of being able to separate content from formatting, in that CSS emphasizes the structure and rendering of Web documents. Since this is familiar turf for most Web developers, it proves an effective launching pad for gaining an understanding of XML. The author also points to the common origins for XML and HTML in Standardized Generalized Markup Language, or SGML, but an understanding of SGML is not required for reading this book or for understanding XML.

In St. Laurent's view, XML starts where CSS leaves off. While CSS brings the nettlesome job of formatting Web content into a controlled environment, it also ends there. XML brings structures for managing data to the table (no pun intended), and just as CSS eases the job of giving content a particular look and feel, XML makes it easier to give Web content "meaning." For instance, while CSS makes it easy to specify that the text "blue" inside a given element will appear rendered in the color blue, XML allows us to say that the same text "blue" is the value for the color attribute of a pair of pants. XML helps us turn what is otherwise a stream of information - the Web page - into structured, manageable and meaningful data.

Going further, St. Laurent introduces XSL, or Extensible Style Sheets, before returning to the job of providing the reader with a basic understanding of how XML works and of how to work with it. If we already have a powerful formatting vehicle in CSS, then what does XSL bring the table? As the author says, "[CSS] ...work by annotating existing document structures...(XSL) takes a much more dramatic approach, transforming the document...." The XSL standard, for instance, includes a mini programming language, and doesn't even have to be used for "formatting" an XML document at all. For instance, the combination of an XML document and one XSL stylesheet could result in an HTML document, while replacing the XSL stylesheet with another could transform the same XML file into a Revisable Text Format (RTF) document. The author also fully addresses XLinks and XPointers. Just as XSL stylesheets go beyond their CSS cousins, XLinks and XPointers provide more functionality than HTML's comparable anchor elements.

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I especially liked the chapter on "Re-creating Web and Paper Documents with XML." Most books provide relatively small-scale examples to illuminate discussions of XML and related technologies. As we know, the demo always makes it look easy, and readers of such books could come to expect that XML in practice will largely be small data islands in Web pages and translated tabular data on a server. But here's where St. Laurent's roots in SGML allow him to go one better, and present a much larger picture. "XML: A Primer" presents an involved case study in which a large and complicated document, an entire chapter of a book, is taken from the typewriter to the world of XML. Readers of this chapter will definitely appreciate the broader role XML can play in managing many different kinds of data as they get to sweat a little with St. Laurent over how to make an effective transition from a complicated text to a valid, well-formed XML document.

The book does a nice job of covering the many possible approaches to exchanging XML between businesses (albeit briefly), and to processing XML in general. The book does not address the Simple Access Object Protocol (SOAP), but then this is a primer, and the most effective treatments of SOAP seem to be in current Web and paper-based articles as well as the larger and more advanced books on XML.

If there are areas where the book falls short, the first would be the author's lack of any real treatment of XML Schema. It may be that the book was written before it became clear that the Web community would accept XML Schema, a standard originally proposed by Microsoft. St. Laurent spends a lot of time on Document Type Definitions (DTDs), which preceded XML Schema, and which are admittedly important since they are still in wide use. Both standards provide for creating rules that specify what data may be included in a given XML document. DTDs and XML Schema both make it possible for an application that is processing or using an XML document to determine the document is valid. Other potential omissions would be the maturing query languages using XML and the increased integration of XML in commercial products.

However, for the individual wishing to become familiar with XML, these shortcomings are slight compared with the overall value of this book as a starting point for that journey. I might mention that I've also worked with several other books on XML, and could also suggest "Teach Yourself XML in 21 Days," written by author Simon North and published by SAMS. I attribute the high quality of both books to the extensive, real-world experience that each author has had with XML and with preceding technologies. If you want a comprehensive, massive tome suitable for weighing down a stack of papers in a windstorm, then grab "Professional XML" from Wrox. I would recommend starting with one of the introductory books first. Finally, "XML in IE5" (also published by Wrox), is exactly what it says, a book on XML that focuses on IE5's support for the standard. It includes introductory material that any reader will likely find useful. Its treatment of XML Schema and XSL are especially good. Several periodicals have also recently popped up, such "XML Magazine" from Fawcette Technical Publications. Finally, visit Webreference.com, which has some great material on XML! There are several links this reviewer thinks you'll find especially valuable starting at http://webreference.com/authoring/languages/xml/. Thanks for reading!

Book: XML: A Primer by Simon St. Laurent Published by M&T Books (An imprint of IDG Books Worldwide, Inc.) 1999, $19.95 ISBN: 0-7645-3310-X

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About the Author:

Gordon Rose (MCSE, MCDBA, MCSD, MCT, etc.) both develops Web sites and teaches Web development. He is currently the lead developer for a brand new site, www.activecert.com, which will provide Windows 2000 certification exam practice tests and many other resources to help aspiring and existing MCSEs make the move to Windows 2000. The site is currently seeking a small group of beta testers. Visit http://www.activecert.com or send an email to: Win2000BetaExam@GoRose.Com if you are interested in participating, or if you just want to learn more about new approaches to preparing for certification tests.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 3. NET NEWS: Netscape 6 PR1 Released, Microsoft Responds With New IE Beta, Opera Sings Own Tune, Court: Programming Languages Covered by First Amendment, Strong Differences In Net Usage Between Countries In Europe, When Dotcoms Become Dotbombs

>Netscape 6 PR1 Released

The other big news this week (after the Microsoft anti-trust ruling) was the long awaited unveiling of AOL's Netscape 6 browser. Designated Preview Release 1 (meaning that it's still in beta, and not entirely complete), is smaller, more customizable and feature- filled, and built on the Mozilla project's open source Gecko engine. But not everyone is entirely happy with this "preview" release, judging from the mixed reviews and raucous user reviews that are appearing on sites like Slashdot.org and Download.com. http://www.internetnews.com/prod-news/article/0,2171,9_334511,00.html http://slashdot.org/articles/00/04/05/0840224.shtml http://www.netscape.com/download/previewrelease.html InternetNews.com, Slashdot.org, Netscape.com, 000405

>Microsoft Responds With New IE Beta, Opera Sings Own Tune

In related browser news, Microsoft shot back at the massive coverage that Netscape 6 is receiving by unveiling an updated beta of the 5.5 version of Internet Explorer. With less fanfare, Opera, makers of the most popular "3rd party" browser, quietly unveiled a new beta of Opera 4.0. http://www.zdnet.com/pcmag/stories/reviews/0,6755,2473899,00.html http://www.internetnews.com/prod-news/article/0,2171,9_335981,00.html ZdNet.com, 000327 InternetNews.com, 000406

>Court: Programming Languages Covered by First Amendment

A U.S. federal appeals court today cleared the way for a law professor to post previously banned encryption software on the Internet, finding that computer code qualifies as speech protected by the United States' First Amendment. http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1005-200-1641004.html News.com, 000404

>Strong Differences In Net Usage Between Countries In Europe

The telephone results of the first official run of the Pan European Internet Monitor by Pro Active International show that the Internet usage in Europe is growing rapidly, but that there are large differences between the countries in North, West and Southern Europe. http://www.internetnews.com/intl-news/article/0,2171,6_335731,00.html InternetNews.com, 000406

>When Dotcoms Become Dotbombs

It's been a rough week on the stock market for internet companies, and many employees are starting to look askance at their stock options. As a result, "New Economy" firms are looking for creative new ways to attract employees - like more pay. http://www.zdnet.com/zdnn/stories/news/0,4586,2522836,00.html ZDNet.com, 000406

That's it for this week, see you next time.

Andrew King Managing Editor, WebReference.com update@webreference.com

Eric Cook Assistant Editor, WebReference.com ecook@internet.com

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