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A Good Week For New Standards

The organization that determines the standards for the World Wide Web is expected to announce Tuesday whether XML (Extensible Markup Language) will become the next Web standard. Related in form and function to HTML, XML allows developers greater control in publishing Web documents. Both languages are related to SGML, which is the original language of the Web. XML retains most of the features associated with SGML and HTML, including vendor independence, user extensibility, complex structures, validation and human readability. Like HTML, XML pulls this off in a way that is much easier to implement and understand. Though no official announcements have been made, XML currently is used to some extent in products like the latest versions of Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer. More than a few other companies have announced product support. Existing commercial tools and a rapidly growing number of free ones already can process XML. Though ballots already have been cast, the final decision for standardization lies in the hands of Time Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web and director of the W3. Berners-Lee is expected to make his announcement Tuesday.

If you've been waiting for an industry standard to be established before dropping $59 on a 56-kbps modem, your ship has just come in. Last week, members of the International Telecommunications Union signed an agreement on a standard that will allow 56-kbps modems from different manufacturers to talk to each other. Sales of 56-kbps modems have been slow because competing manufacturers have not been able to come to any sort of consensus on how their modems would communicate. Though modems by either company are capable of talking to modems from any other company, connect speeds between incompatible 56-kbps protocols cannot exceed 33.6 kbps. As a result, customers owning such modems have been forced to choose their Internet service provider based on which standard that ISP supported. ISPs, on the other hand, have had to deal with the added expense of supporting both technologies in order to retain business. The new V.90 standard is effective immediately, and manufacturers are expected to begin offering software upgrades for existing units before the end of February, though testing has shown that not all 56-kbps modems will meet the new standard even with an upgrade. Barring difficulties, modem manufacturers could begin shipping V.90 modems by April, though some manufacturers say they want to continue testing. Longtime rivals 3Com and Lucent Technologies are at least partially responsible for the new standard. Makers of competing (and incompatible) technologies, 3Com and Lucent began joint tests last month to see if modems featuring their chip sets could adopt the new standard readily. Both companies are already in the process of testing the V.90 standard through ISPs. Lucent Technologies manufactures modems and chips that support the K56 flex specification, and 3Com helped pioneer x2 technology. At present, V.90 is a "determined" one, meaning that extensive road-tests must be performed before anything is made official. If all goes well, the V.90 standard could be in place before the end of the year.

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