Antarctica targets fed market

The co-creator of Extensible Markup Language has been briefing military information technology officials in recent weeks on new software designed to simplify the process of searching for and sharing information.

As founder of Antarctica Systems Inc., Tim Bray — who helped edit the XML 1.0 specification six years ago — has called on chief information officers' offices in the Army and the Defense Department to discuss Visual Net, software that makes shared information more accessible through visual interfaces.

The visualization software creates "browsable" data maps — for example, from the output of search engines — so that users can navigate and find information more intuitively, according to company officials.

Antarctica, a Vancouver-based firm launched in 1999, is making its first foray in the federal sector. The military is "trying to become more information-centric," and so military officials are interested in boosting the quality of data access, Bray said. Antarctica's products will be marketed through federal integrators, he said, noting that the company is in conversation with potential partners.

Although Antarctica doesn't bill itself as an XML firm, the company's product is built around XML and other open interfaces. Visual Net uses XML in its "internal protocols and in configuration files," the company reports.

XML also is crucial to building customer information maps, particularly when data is housed in legacy systems. Customers can send a "dump" of a legacy application's information structure in XML format to Antarctica, Bray said. The company then will work with the customer to show how important data should be displayed in maps. Antarctica can tap the application and build a new user interface without having to "understand arcane legacy [application programming interfaces]," Bray said.

Although Antarctica's product is fairly new, data visualization isn't a new field. The technology has been around for 10 to 15 years. Xerox Corp.'s Palo Alto Research Center, for example, recognized visualization as an important topic years ago, said Geoffrey Bock, senior vice president at Patricia Seybold Group Inc. Enterprises must figure out how to organize content in order to visualize it. "It's a question of computing power, graphic design and metadata management," he said.

Bray's federal pursuit comes at a time when agencies are exploring XML as a way to facilitate data sharing. XML, a World Wide Web Consortium recommended standard, promotes the creation of Web documents that can be readily exchanged among organizations.

Bray and other observers believe the technology may provide a useful tool in homeland security. Homeland security applications are expected to call for a heavy dose of data sharing, and XML-based technology could emerge as a common architecture for such an information exchange.

Moore is a freelance writer based in Syracuse, N.Y.

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