IBM is marshalling its vast resources around the Extensible Markup Language (XML) in an attempt to leverage the technology's potential across its product line.
Although most of this work still resides in IBM's research facilities, the critical role XML will play in IBM's enterprise computing strategy will be made apparent through a series of initiatives the company is expected to outline beginning later this quarter.
"It's almost like stealth XML. What we have today are some products coming out with an XML twist, but we're still trying to understand the wider implications," said Craig Hayman, IBM's US-based program director of repository strategy.
A World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) specification descendent from Standardised General Markup Language (SGML), XML is a meta language, or a language for creating custom markup languages, which in turn are used for generating documents.
Already finding its way into competitors' products from Microsoft's Office 2000 to enterprise server software from Netscape, IBM intends to use XML as connective tissue among its myriad development tool, middleware, and database products on multiple platforms.
Company executives said they believe XML can be the best way to exchange data via the Internet without standardising on a set of proprietary interfaces or being required to lock into a defined set of programming tools.
For example, this quarter IBM is expected to announce plans to further exploit XML to share data within its e-Business product suite.
"The combination of XML and JavaBeans allows us to take all these products together and deliver some fantastic solutions," Hayman said.
Among IBM's XML efforts are inventing ways to consolidate Web server administration tasks and creating Java content viewers for programmers, according to one IBM researcher.
But Ingesys manager Jeffrey Shi warns IBM will have to be careful with its pricing policies if it is to stamp its authority on the Web tools market.
"This is a competitive market and most people want reasonable prices and service," he said. "IBM really has to think if it wants to push these products. Its software hasn't been so successful in the past because it is always a step behind Microsoft and Microsoft products are reasonably priced."
To achieve successful sales of its upcoming products, Shi suggests IBM will need lower prices, an aggressive advertising campaign and free demonstrations of XML to familiarise the market with its capabilities.