Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has highlighted XML as the future of the Internet, while discussing the Microsoft ".net" vision during his visit to Sydney.
Gates also took a stab at rival Sun Microsystems and its control of the Java language, claiming Microsoft has a better model for developing Web tools with partners.
Gates explained that Microsoft's .net strategy, which aims to facilitate user data and popular applications online, depends largely on the acceptance of XML as a standard for future Web development (see page 26).
"We made a huge bet on XML," he said. "We made a bet that the Internet would go beyond a bunch of html screens. We bet ourselves on XML the same way we bet on the Graphics Interface with Windows. People doing software development are realising this is the way the industry has chosen to go."
Gates believes that Microsoft has no competition when it comes to XML, claiming that, unlike Netscape's competition in the development of Web browsing, there is no such equivalent in the XML space.
He also suggested that competitor Sun Microsystems is "primarily a hardware company", that gains the majority of its revenue through bundling proprietary software with its hardware sales and exerts too much control over the Java language.
"Sun is trying to make Java a proprietary language, whereas our heritage is about working with a broad set of developers," claimed Gates. "Our approach is a lot more flexible."
John Arnold, technology manager for Software Platforms at Sun Microsystems Australia, claims Microsoft is attempting to steal the limelight on the growing acceptance of XML.
"What people tend to forget is that Sun first started the push toward XML," he said. "XML is about portable data, and Java is about portable applications. It's a hand-in-glove situation."
Java is developed under the Java Community Process (JCP), which, according to Arnold, takes on a great deal of input from the developer community.
"There are a number of groups that participate in developing the standard," he said. "It isn't open source, but neither is anything Microsoft develop."
Both Gates and Arnold claim the level of co-operation with the developer community will play an important role in the success of their platforms. Gates believes that in the current phase of the Internet, Microsoft's key role is to create tools for developers.
"We take our strategies to the developers to build a solution around it," he said. "Heterogeneity is a practical way for this to work. Our strategy is to have developers using XML as an exchange. Whether you're writing in C, in Java, or in Visual Basic - if you do the XML piece right, it will work."
On the other hand, Arnold claims that more people are developing on Java than any other language, and highlights the adoption of the J2EE (Java Enterprise Edition) standard as proof of how solid the Java platform has become.
"We have achieved a balance between maintaining compatibility and giving developers access to the language," he said.
Regardless of who gets the credit for first endorsing the XML standard, both Gates and Arnold agree that XML is an important language for the future of the Internet and is unlikely to fragment.