Sun boosts UBL to unify XML dialects
- By John K. Waters
Jon Bosak gets a faraway look in his eyes when he talks about the potential
of the Universal Business Language (UBL), which he hopes will someday unify the
various business electronic commerce ''dialects'' of XML. Bosak, who holds the
title of Distinguished Engineer at Sun Microsystems, is the current chair of the
UBL Technical Committee of the Organization for the Advancement of Structured
Information Standards (OASIS).
''I'm wondering whether we might not get a Napster-like effect out of this,''
Bosak told eADT during a break at last week's Sun Network conference in
San Francisco. ''The thing that made the Web explode was HTML, which turned it
into an unmediated publishing medium. I could decide to publish something, and
you could decide to read it, and we didn't need the publisher. Maybe UBL will
create an unmediated business environment that could take off under its own
But Bosak dismisses his own speculations as ''dreamy stuff.'' The real
promise of UBL, he said, is much more modest, but no less compelling: UBL is
being designed to serve as a synthesis of existing XML business document
The man who organized and led the W3C working group that created the XML
specification, prides himself on his pragmatism. Without it, he said, progress
on the UBL project would be much slower.
''We're making very good progress [on UBL],'' he said, ''because we were
willing to do the politically incorrect, but very pragmatic thing. I guess you
could say that we cheated, because we weren't willing to start from scratch. But
we figured, and I think correctly, that that would have added several years to
Instead, he and the other members of the UBL committee, of which he is the
current chair, looked around for a large, existing XML library with had a
copyright that allowed for the creation of derivative works. After sorting
through the available XML business schemas they settled on xCBL from Commerce
One and SAP.
''We're starting with something that had four years of development already in
it,'' Bosak said, ''and it already had both flavors of EDI (Electronic Data
Interchange) cooked into it.''
That decision worried industry watchers, however, because xCBL was one of the
commercial contenders. ''In the beginning the great fear was that we were going
to rubber stamp Commerce One and SAP's data format,'' Bosak explains, ''which I
have to say would have been okay with me if that's what it took to do something
real. But I once we got this stuff into committee, even the people you would
expect to have a vested interest in keeping it the same were ready to change it
and make it better. Consequently, what we're working on right now has very
little resemblance to what we started with.''
A library is essential to the goals of the UBL project, Bosak said. ''We
wanted a library so that all the documents would share common pieces,'' he said.
''We couldn't begin to accomplish the future work of the context methodology
without a library approach. It's also the best approach for version control.''
The second major UBL library review is currently underway. This package
includes the data model and XML schema for a library of approximately 500
reusable business information entities (BIEs) plus UBL Order and UBL Order
''It's not really all that sexy to talk about business forms and purchase
orders,'' Bosak said, ''but the result [of the UBL project] will be a standard
set of XML business document schemas that anyone, anywhere can download and use
without having to pay for the privilege and without running into any ownership
John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached