XML Expert: Ron Schmelzer
week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive
interview with, Ron Schmelzer, an internationally
renowned expert in XML and XML-based standards and
initiatives. Ron is the lead author for SAMS XML and
Web Services Unleashed.
Q: Ron, thank you for being here with us today. We
thank you for sharing your years of experience and
incredible knowledge with us.
A: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to speak
more about a subject that I am both interested in
and enjoy speaking about.
Q: What does your family have to say about your
international reputation as a noted author, speaker,
consultant, and XML guru?
A: I am sure they are thrilled to see me pursue a
topic with such interest and devotion.
Q: What led you to study computer science and
electrical engineering at MIT? What led to your
interest in computers?
A: Basically I have always been fascinated and
interested in science and technology in general, and
computing and electronics in specific. Part of the
fascination is the joy of watching something you’ve
created be realized and implemented by a hunk of
silicon, metal, and plastic. That interest in
computing is really a by-product of my general
interest in technology. It’s amazing how much we can
improve the lives of ordinary people through the use
of technology. Of course, technology is also equally
capable of being improperly applied – which directly
led to the founding of ZapThink – an analyst group
focused on open, non-proprietary, loosely coupled
technologies for computing, especially XML and Web
Of course, the more time you spend in your formative
years on these things the more you are attracted to
one of the leading institutions that are helping to
shape the future of technology – MIT.
Q: Can you share a story from the time you were
named “Geek of the Week” in Internet Magazine?
A: Well, not really much of a story here. The
article came at the time of increasing hype and
glorification of the Internet. I am glad to say that
I was part of those early years. Internet Magazine
used to have a column called Geek of the Week in
their monthly (now defunct) publication. As founder
of VirtuMall (which became VirtuFlex and then
ChannelWave), I was featured as one of the early
leaders. I should also toot my own horn and say I
was soon after named one of Boston’s Top 40 Internet
“movers and shakers”.
Q: You were a founder of Dynamic Data Services and
ChannelWave. Can you share lessons you learned from
these experiences and times?
A: I am quite dedicated to the spirit of
entrepreneurship. In fact, I would say that I am a
“serial entrepreneur”. Both Dynamic Data and the
string of businesses that would become ChannelWave (VirtuMall
and VirtuFlex) are evidence of that devotion. All of
these experiences have helped to make me a better
entrepreneur – something I am still working on
Q: Any more stories from your time at US Robotics
working on advanced Internet applications?
A: I was at US Robotics very much in both my early
career as well as the history of US Robotics in the
Internet. I was there in the summer of 1994 – before
the Internet became what it was. I think we both
learned that the Internet was something that would
greatly change the world and an opportunity for us
both. In fact, I can credit US Robotics for helping
me start my first Internet endeavor – VirtuMall. US
Robotics themselves had quite a ride, being acquired
by 3Com, and then spun off after 3Com found
themselves floundering in the “new” economy.
Q: You are a founder of ZapThink, an XML-focused
industry analyst group. How do you plan to shape
ZapThink in the near and long term?
A: ZapThink is an analyst group focused on XML and
Web Services. As XML and Web Services develops and
increases the way in which it helps businesses
become more agile and responsive, so too will
ZapThink. We are focused on giving the industry
insight, analysis, and research on a topic which is
still widely misunderstood and misapplied. We are a
“boutique” analyst firm and thus give our clients an
unrivaled service that is focused, objective,
high-value, timely, and comprehensive.
Q: What has been the feedback about XML from the
audiences at your many speaking engagements such as
XML One, COMDEX, and Internet World? What are the
most common questions and your responses?
A: Since I’ve been speaking since almost the
inception of XML and Web Services, the opinions of
XML and Web Services clearly have matured over all
these years. Nowadays, there is more “sobriety” in
the way people are looking at technology – how will
it impact me NOW? What are the realistic benefits I
can see from implementing these technologies? What
are the real costs, challenges, and alternatives?
Right now, people are in it for the short-term. As
these short-term concerns are either overcome or
validated, the industry will mature – or flounder.
Of course, the questions and responses all have to
do with these major issues. It would be difficult to
go into detail in this short interview, but I would
say that ZapThink covers this in depth in its
research. I highly encourage the readers of this
article who are also unclear of the benefits XML and
Web Services can bring their organizations to go to
www.zapthink.com and read some of our published
Q: What [very] specific aspects of XML should we be
watching for in the near term, say one year and in
the two years? Which parts get you really excited?
A: Over the near term, Web Services will dominate
both the media as well as implementations of XML. It
is both an interesting and exciting trend towards
simplifying and standardizing the literally hundreds
of internal and external interfaces corporations
have. Through 2002 and 2003, ZapThink expects that
Web Services will have to face and surmount a list
of critical roadblocks and challenges to
implementation of Web Services in the enterprise
including security, reliability, transaction
handling, management, and many aspects of B2B
integration. If these issues are not handled, then
Web Services faces a limited scope of applicability.
Q: How about three to five years? Where do you see
XML evolving in the next five years?
A: XML will increasingly become part of the everyday
aspect of technology. In fact, it will soon become
invisible. Just as TCP/IP and HTTP have become part
of most of the applications we use these days, so
too will XML and Web Services. Right now, they are
top of mind as we resolve some of the lingering
issues that prevent widespread use. However, once
these issues are resolved, we can expect XML and Web
Services to survive and become part of the every day
framework of our lives.
Q: Which areas XML do you feel are the most
controversial and what are your ideas on these
A: We are still very much in the early days of
developing and implementing XML and Web Services.
One of the biggest challenges will be surmounting
the “politics” that inevitably occur as vendors
jockey for position as early leaders and capturers
of market share. ZapThink goes above this politics
by examining the reality of the market situation,
the vendors and their offerings and positioning, and
our predictions for how the market will shake out.
We believe our honesty and forward-thinking
leadership sets us apart from other analyst groups
who have coverage of this space.
Q: If you have total control over its continuing
evolution, where would you like to see XML in five
A: Well, experience has taught me that no one has
control over the direction of any technology –
regardless of possession of monopoly or patents. It
is customers that always end up choosing what best
suits them and determining the direction they want a
technology such as XML to head. I would like to see
end-users take XML as far as they wish it to go – or
throw it by the wayside if it doesn’t meet their
Q: What do you see as the biggest misconceptions
about XML and web services?
A: ZapThink covers this in extreme detail in two of
our most popular (and let me add free) reports: the
Pros and Cons of XML and Pros and Cons of Web
Services. Rather than trying to summarize those
ideas, I encourage readers of this article to check
out those documents and send us their feedback.
Q: Your recent book on XML and Web Services from
SAMS is a masterful work on the topic. What led you
to write this book?
A: Thank you for your praise on the book. The book
was a collaborative effort with a number of really
good, thought-leading authors including Jason
Bloomberg (a ZapThink colleague), Maddhu
Siddalingaiah, Dianne Kennedy, and others.
I am pleased to be part of such a great
collaborative effort and hope people enjoy the book.
I encourage those that haven’t read this
authoritative and exhaustive reference on XML and
Web Services to pick up a copy today!
Q: Please share with us, ten or more leading tips
from the book?
A: The book is a great reference that we hope stays
on the desks and shelves of XML developers and other
interested parties for a long time. As such, it is
chock full of key solutions to critical XML problems
such as DTDs and Schema, the JAX pack, Web Services
fundamentals, implementing .NET, major vertical and
e-business standards, content management, and other
critical XML topics.
Q: What future books can we expect from you?
A: I continue to be a major book contributor and am
just wrapping up work on a title from Addison-Wesley
called “Business Process Integration with
Service-Oriented Architectures”. A bit longwinded,
but we hope it will be the industry’s seminal book
on the whos, whys, whats, and hows of integrating
systems with Web Services and other Service-oriented
techniques. I encourage readers who are interested
in this topic to get this book when it’s out! I am
also working on a number of proposals for other
books – and I am sure you will find out when they’re
Q: What are the greatest drawbacks about XML?
A: There are plenty of drawbacks to implementing XML
– if it even should be implemented – in certain
scenarios. Many of these drawbacks are covered in
ZapThink’s Pros and Cons of XML report, which I
encourage readers to view at the ZapThink web site
Q: What are your recommendations for the ten top
resources about XML, Web Services and related
A: Now that XML is becoming increasingly more
prevalent in the enterprise and in the minds of
developers, there are really a few great ways people
can learn more about XML and Web Services:
• Books, of course, such as XML and Web Services
• Conferences such as XML and Web Services One
• Training and focused seminars offered in the
dozens (or even hundreds)
• Journals and trade magazines
• Key websites such as XML.com
• Through colleagues and organizations
XML should be part of an overall technology
strategy, so users interested in using this
technology should approach it as another, but
critical, tool in their IT belt.
Q: Do you have any comments about specific industry
players and their development/use of XML?
A: This is one of the key areas that ZapThink
tracks. We have had over 200 conversations, or
briefings, with critical XML and Web Services
vendors and industry players. Our research,
analysis, and insight covers precisely what these
vendors are doing and how the markets for XML and
Web Services products and solutions are developing.
Readers interested in that should definitely check
out the research available from ZapThink.
Q: Can you describe some of the projects that you
have worked on and what tips you can pass on?
Lessons learned and things you would have done
A: ZapThink is focused on giving our customers a
comprehensive, relevant, and timely understanding of
XML and Web Services. Each user scenario is
different, but our clients benefit from our
industry-wide approach and insight on XML. In
general, we encourage readers of this article to
understand their business issues and how XML can
Q: Can you share your leading career tips for those
thinking of getting into the computing field?
A: XML and Web Services present great opportunities
for developers looking to expand their skills and
marketability, if they are looking for jobs. Those
who have a clear understanding of not only the
technological and implementation details of XML and
Web Services, but also the right contexts in which
those technologies can be used will have a bright
future ahead of them – even in these perilous
Q: What are the hottest topics that all IT
professionals must know to be successful in the
short term and long term?
A: IT professionals must face the new climate we are
now in – budgets are tight, ROI timelines are short,
and the technology landscape is rapidly changing. In
order to survive this “new, new economy”, developers
need to become highly proficient, agile, and
customer-focused. Learning XML and Web Services can
surely get these developers on the right track both
in the short-term and long-term.
Q: If you were doing this interview, what four
questions would you ask of someone in your position
and what would be your answers?
A: So, want me to help you do your job, eh ;) Just
kidding. Well, I would ask me one big thing: why is
what I do important? I believe that ZapThink, as an
extension of the key technology concerns I am
interested in, will help people make the right use
of the right technologies. We see XML and Web
Services as being the “right technologies” as they
evolve, and what we are helping people understand is
their correct application. In as much as we can help
businesses and individual developers understand the
direction these technologies are heading, the role
they can play, and the benefits of applying this
technology, and in the process establish a
successful analyst business, I can consider ZapThink
a success. Until then, I will continue to work hard
to meet those goals.
Q: It’s a blank slate, what added comments would you
like to give to enterprise corporations and
A: Focus, focus, focus. The time for waste, excess,
and unfocused business plans are over. Businesses
need to understand the new dynamics of the current
marketplace and understand the role that XML and Web
Services plays in this new landscape. There is
little time to be learning critical business issues
the hard way over a long period of time. ZapThink as
well as other key leaders are aiming to shorten this
time of understanding technology and thus be a
benefit to our customers. So, basically – get
started now on the path understanding is the key
message to enterprises and developers alike.
Q: Thank you for sharing your valuable insights with
us today and we look forward to hearing you speak at
conferences, reading your books, and articles.
A: Thank you very much for your time and interest.
If any readers have questions or other issues they’d
like to address with me, I encourage them to contact
firstname.lastname@example.org, or check the ZapThink
web site at
http://www.zapthink.com. We’re always glad to be