XML? What happened to HTML? and EDI?  Who can keep up with it all? Hold on, because you haven't heard or seen the end yet.

If you follow any kind of technology news, you've no doubt heard XML hyped as the next e-business revolution. It will do everything from solving scalable integration migratory platform enterprises to curing the common cold. If you believe all that I've got some tech stocks for sale.

Hype and Reality. Like everything else in tech news you have to separate the marketing hype (and there's tons of that to go around) from the reality.  XML has been around for a long time. At least in computer years. It all started around 1980 with SGML, a difficult, unwieldy language designed to help companies manage technical documentation. 

Every now and then in history, someone takes a moment to look at a problem from a new perspective, thinking outside the box we like to say. That happened in 1990, when some geniuses created HTML using SGML concepts but without the burdensome restrictions.  HTML, which is what we make web pages from, changed everything.

HTML is so forgiving, any child with a computer can program web pages. Even adults can create their own home page just by clicking on Save As Web Page. Suddenly 'Keeping up with the Jones' means being the first to register your name as a .com.

But this silver lining had a cloud under it. Easy web pages are possible in part because your Internet browser makes up something when it comes across bad code. If you forget to cross a 'T' or dot an 'i', when designing a web page, the browser knows what you meant, or at least what it thinks you meant.

Not good if you're passing data back and forth. "Was that purchase order for 1 #500 sofa with fabric spring clips, or for 1500 sofas with fabric Spring Clips?" I sure don't want Internet Explorer deciding for me.

Enter EDI. Well that's another conversation. Picture a Far Side cartoon with a room full of computer nerds throwing memory cards and motherboards at each other. The argument? For now, we won't even go there. Suffice it to say, that what we'll see in the future will be a merging of the two technologies until Java and XML finally rule. 

Sometime in 1996, some more geniuses took another look at SGML and thought there had to be a better way to pass data through the Internet. They came up with XML. Sun Microsystems claims they invented it, but that would be like Al Gore claiming he invented the internet.

Didn't cross your "T" or dot your "i"? The program stops. When you order 1 #500 sofa with spring clips that's what you'll get. In XML everything has only one meaning, and it's something everyone agrees on.

We were doing fine until the "everyone agrees on" part. (We are talking the furniture industry here.) That's what FIDX is all about. Getting the right people in the room, closing the doors and working out the tough issues until we have standards.