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Novell and Microsoft agree on XML-based standard

July 14, 1999
Web posted at: 12:29 p.m. EDT (1629 GMT)

by John Fontana

Network World Fusion
XML might become standard for digital signatures

LAKE TAHOE, CALIF. (IDG) -- Five major vendors Monday joined forces to promote a standard way for their products to talk to each other. This could turn out to be a milestone in the history of directory interoperability.

IBM, Microsoft, Novell, Oracle and Sun-Netscape all lined up behind a proposed extension to the Extensible Markup Language (XML). This extension will let directories exchange information about the data they hold.

Achieving that level of communication is nearly impossible today without a rich set of tools since directory vendors use different formats, or schema, to describe the information they hold. Getting directories to exchange data is important for electronic commerce applications that are likely to link many companies over various platforms.

The five companies, along with start-up Bowstreet Software, said at the Burton Group's Catalyst Conference in Lake Tahoe that they intend to present the Directory Services Markup Language (DSML) specification to a standards body in the fall.
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The intent is to create a standard way to query data, such as a user's name, address and privileges, from a directory regardless of the format the data is in. That data, which is exchanged using XML, can then be used in Web-based applications to identify and control the users access to applications or create custom applications for that user.

DSML was created by e-commerce vendor Bowstreet as a way for its Web-based application framework to interact with a directory. Bowstreet will release its DSML implementation this fall.

"DSML gets directory information into a format that can be used by XML-based e-commerce applications," said Todd Hay, product manager for Bowstreet. "It helps pull the power of the directory into e-commerce."

Although the DSML is only a baseline requirement for directory enabling Web applications, the fact that rivals Microsoft and Novell are among those committed to it is significant.

"The ability for the directory to describe itself is important," said Jamie Lewis, president of The Burton Group. "These vendors will never agree on standardized schema, but they have agreed on how they describe their schema."

Directory schema is used to name objects and attributes, such as an address or telephone number.

DSML is intended to compliment the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), a standard way to access directories. LDAP provides a way to extract directory data, while DSML describes that data in a common way. DSML turns directory data into plain text, which developers can use to parse into Web-based applications.

"This is one thing that has to be done for business-to-business commerce," says Durwin Sharp, e-commerce advisor for Exxon. "If DSML provides a common layer for inter-company directories to talk, that is great." However, Sharp says time will tell if DSML's second to last initial stands for "magic" or "markup."

The vendors are expected to submit DSML to a standards body or bodies in the coming weeks, although they did not specify which ones. The World Wide Web Consortium oversees the development of XML.

Bowstreet also announced its Web Service Architecture, a platform for building on-the-fly e-commerce applications based on user profiles. The platform relies on directories to provide information about users and access to business logic stored in re-usable templates. The first set of templates Bowstreet will deliver focus on supporting sales and distribution channels on the Internet.

Also at the conference, Novell introduced its XML-based metadirectory tool, DirXML, for connecting Novell Directory Services to other directories using XML and the Extensible Style Language. Novell was expected to call the tool Directory Integrator, but changed the name to more closely associate it with XML.

Microsoft and Cisco announced they extended their development agreement based on Active Directory and Cisco networking hardware. Cisco is developing Cisco Networking Services for Active Directory, a host of networking services built on the forthcoming directory from Microsoft.

Control Data Systems Tuesday unveiled Patrol, a set of security services for directories and messaging environments.

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