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XML.com: XMLTerm: A Mozilla-based Semantic User Interface

Jun 11, 2000, 14:25 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by R. Saravanan)

"World-wide dissemination of information on the Internet has evolved through three different stages. It began with the textual stage (involving protocols like gopher), was followed by explosive growth during the graphical stage (with HTML/HTTP), and is now entering the semantic stage (with XML). The evolution of the Web in some ways parallels the evolution of the user interface (UI) between humans and computers. The early UIs for mainframe computers were textual and command-line oriented. This was followed by the graphical UI (GUI), which helped promote rapid growth in the use of personal computers. If one were to stretch this Web and UI analogy further, the next stage in the evolution of the UI should be ... the semantic UI!"

"Like the semantic web, a semantic UI should clearly separate the functions of the UI from its visual appearance. Superficial forms of this separation already exist, in the form of themes and skins for GUIs, but we are talking about a more radical form of separation here, where the complete visual structure of the UI may be altered. The XML framework is a natural choice for achieving this separation. We can use XML to represent the semantics of the UI, and use styling mechanisms to control its visual appearance. For example, a semantic UI may have both a textual and a graphical representation, with style sheets allowing the user to switch between the two. Such an approach could help address accessibility issues, and also facilitate alternative UI technologies such as voice-control."

"The open source browser platform, Mozilla, provides a nice test bed for experimenting with semantic UIs. The Mozilla browser itself clearly separates the browser functionality from the visual UI, allowing vendors other than Netscape to easily provide their own GUIs for the browser engine. Mozilla can display both HTML and XML documents, using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). It also provides UI description languages like XUL (XML-based UI Language). In this article we describe a prototype semantic UI called XMLterm, implemented using the Mozilla platform."

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