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Recently, a new group of acronyms has appeared on the Internet scene - CDF, DRP, OPS, OSD, RDF and XML. Is this an alien plot to confuse the world and stymie Java developers who have better things to do with their time than decipher another bowl of alphabet soup?

Actually, the acronyms are a serious effort to make the Internet a less complicated world to navigate by establishing standards for the next wave of software development.

The Internet, which is fundamentally an agreement about how vastly differing computer hardware will be used to transfer data, could not exist without standards about how information is recognized and transferred. It's really remarkable how universal the acceptance of familiar addressing standards has become - and how fast these types of addresses have been incorporated into daily life.

TCP/IP protocols, for example, are the basic building blocks of the Internet. Everyone interested in using the Internet, whether on a casual or a professional basis, recognizes the familiar sequence of an Internet address. HyperText Markup Language, already much better recognized by its acronym, HTML, is a simple file format that allows the embedding of images, sounds, video streams, form fields and simple text formatting. References to other documents are embedded using a Uniform Resource Locator (URL), which is a text reference to a piece of data in the WWW.

Huge assumptions had to be made - and accepted by users - before TCP/IP, HTML and URLs could carry out the functions needed. These types of protocols, the low level protocols, evolved to standardize how the transport of data occurs. Similar assumptions will have to be made and accepted before further levels of complexity can be resolved.

With the introduction of push technology for the distribution of content and software, the usage patterns of the Web have changed significantly. Whereas originally data was retrieved in a browsing manner, it is now often delivered on a subscription basis. The DRP proposal is a new protocol which anticipates this change in usage and provides efficient ways for replicating data using HTTP.

The complexity of the data being transferred through the Internet is evolving rapidly. So much so, that it is now necessary to talk about metadata. Metadata provide data about data. For example, metadata provide information about a document: who wrote it, when it was published, where it came from.

The next level of protocols relates to format of data. In this category, two new proposals are very important:

  • XML, or eXtensible Markup Language: an effort to provide a simpler and more powerful way to describe document syntax.
  • RDF, or Resource Description Framework: a metadata format that allows consolidation of format to describe metadata.
A third level of protocols relates to the application of metadata. Within this category, there are several new protocols:
  • OSD, or Open Software Description format: applies to the description of dependencies on the Web. It defines dependencies such as, what platform a particular piece of software runs on.
  • CDF, or Channel Definition Format: provides metadata about channels and pertains particularly to Microsoft's IE.
  • OPS, or Open Profiling Standard: applies to metadata related to privacy issues.
Since these formats all define various forms of metadata it is likely that they will all eventually use the RDF syntax for metadata.

Whole new categories of applications are moving onto the Web. These standards can allow them to interoperate. At the moment, there is a lot of competition as companies work with private standards, but standardization is essential for interoperability. Users demand it, and sellers will have to provide it.

There is always some tension from the different forces at work, the pressure of getting products to market and maintaining intellectual property. As products gain acceptance, companies open up their internal standards to be considered for use in a wider industry fashion. Standards are often really a matter of writing down the obvious, the way problems have already been solved. Companies proposing these standards are often disclosing what had been proprietary information at an earlier stage, but are hoping to gain synergy within their market as a result. Customers push hard for the benefits of interoperability offered by universally accepted standards.

Within the next year, these still-new acronyms will become familiar as the protocols become accepted. The acronyms are just ways of describing new approaches to problem-solving. Who knows, some new words may even filter out to become more widely understood. After all, if URL can become a noun, anything is possible.

About the Author
Arthur van Hoff is Chief Technology Officer of Marimba, Inc. Marimba is dedicated to improving the experiences of users and developers on the Internet by providing better mechanisms for delivering software. http://www.marimba.com


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