The Rise of XML

By Greg Laffrenzen

Extensible Markup Language, better known as XML, has made a big splash in the business world, and has become the newest ‘must know’ topic for graduating collegians. Simple, flexible and, most importantly, comprehensible to the lay person, the markup language is being incorporated by hundreds of companies a year.

But where did XML come from?

Tim Berners-Lee developed Hypertext Markup Language, abbreviated as HTML, in 1991. The language became widely used for the creation of web pages, besting the then ISO standard SMGL (Standard Generalized Markup Language).

HTML is still in use and popular today. The language’s most glaring weakness, however, is its use of strict naming tags, which were set in stone with the language and are unalterable.

The issue of inflexible HTML tags became a problem when some companies, namely Microsoft and Netscape, created proprietary tags. These tags could be written in a website to enhance a viewer’s experience… only if they were using the corresponding Microsoft or Netscape web browser. Users who did not use the ‘right’ web browser experienced a range of problems viewing and navigating the site, if it worked at all.

November of 1996 saw a solution emerge in XML. The SMGL team had developed XML, a flexible language for writing websites and documentation. It has no pre-defined tags, only those created by the user. Tags exist for structural purposes only, and XML documents must be displayed with a separate style sheet for proper viewing.

XML was a welcome relief to a growing concern. The division caused by propriety tags had become a burden to users everywhere. The use of XML is still on the rise, as companies find more and more uses to incorporate the flexible documentation into their own styles.  


The practical applications of XML include:

   • Storing data
Organizing documents
Displaying detailed or specific information (for example: music notes)
Quickly implementing changes throughout a document
Translation and localization



Haase, O.  (2004).  XML - Extensible Markup Language.  Retrieved on October 20, 2004, from

Kotok, A.  (2003).  Business at XML 2002.  Retrieved on October 20, 2004, from