Bosak on Universal Business Language
00:23, 15 May 2003 UTC | Simon St.Laurent

At last week's XML Europe, Jon Bosak, the "father of XML", confessed that "yes, I have visions" as he explained how he hoped XML might help in "saving the world", leveling the playing field of global commerce by lowering the cost of doing business.

Noting that the "social agenda of SGML has always been about creator ownership of content," with vendor, platform, and language neutrality at its core - Bosak now wants to take that social agenda and apply it in a much larger context.

While documents and data are often considered separate territories, Bosak emphasized that the two work together: "Business is built on the concept of standard legally binding documents." Documents are crucial not only as information exchange, but as a key means of keeping humans in the computing loop. Bosak's vision of social change is as much about human business structures as technical ones.

Bosak noted that while global integration is a common theme of advertisements for companies selling computer or transportation services, the reality is quite different. Companies that do business on a global scale (and their intermediaries) prefer to use lower-cost EDI transactions, but the initial costs of joining these systems are substantial, keeping out many possible participants.

Bridging the gap between the dreams promoted in the advertisements and the reality is difficult, but Bosak sees XML as a key component. Bosak suggests replacing traditional EDI with a multi-layer package, built on standards at all levels:

  • transport - the Internet
  • a document-centric architecture - XML
  • royalty-free XML B2B tag set - UBL
  • royalty-free B2B infrastructure - ebXML
  • royalty-free office productivity format - OpenOffice
  • open-source software

Bosak described the combination of open source software and open standards as critical to making this project feasible - "Open source may be the way to get this off the ground, enabling later commercial possibilities."

Bosak noted several key advantages of ebXML for open source development, particularly its exemption from an IBM patent on electronic trading partner agreements, courtesy of the UN/CEFACT and OASIS involvement in the development process. Combined with the similarly royalty-free Universal Business Language (UBL), a vocabulary for describing business documents, developers can create standard business communications systems without concerns over intellectual property. Some tools, notably freebxml, are already available.

These low-cost systems can then make it possible for small businesses to join global trade networks and their cheaper transaction costs without the up-front investment of EDI. Bosak hopes that a more open global trading network will mean a more equitable globe, bringing SGML's social values to many more people than ever worked with SGML.

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Re: Bosak on Universal Business Language (Ole Christian Evensen - 10:49, 26 May 2003)
Did Bosak explicit mention freebxml.org? I am looking for good open source project that support ebMS ...
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