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Re: Will XML change the character of W3C? Was: Re: sunshine andstandard

  • From: Amy Lewis <amyzing@t...>
  • To: "Bullard, Claude L (Len)" <clbullar@i...>, xml-dev@l...
  • Date: Mon, 16 Oct 2000 22:22:48 -0400

w 3c fill in
On Mon, Oct 16, 2000 at 09:09:07AM -0500, Bullard, Claude L (Len) wrote:
>Here's the rub: XML Is Not a W3C Success.

I disagree.  Emphatically.

>XML is SGML-lite.  XSLT is DSSSL recast.  SVG follows 
>the same design documented years earlier by 
>Goldfarb and Chamberlain.

XML addresses the problems of HTML (a profile, I believe even a valid
one) of SGML.  Specifically, it is designed for significantly easier
parsing, and has quite strict rules about what to do in case of error. 
XML's empty-element syntax is an innovation.  Its avoidance of
minimization is (to my knowledge, which is not as broad as it could be)
unusual among SGML profiles.  It is, in sum, a well-tuned system, a
third system effort (SGML, HTML, XML) which seems (so far) to have
successfully addressed some of the most egregious shortcomings of its

"XML *is* SGML".  I've heard that song (the XML Handbook (brought to
you by these fine sponsors!) sings it over and over and over).  XML
isn't exactly quite a profile of SGML, as I understand profiles; it's
more of a dialect and restriction of SGML.  To say otherwise is, I
think, to refuse credit to a working group that really did an amazing

That working group was under the aegis of the W3C.  It was there rather
than at IETF because (others can fill in the blank), rather than at ISO
because (fill in the blank).  There weren't several different
organizations competing for the loyalty of the WG, as far as I've ever
heard.  The WG went for W3C because it was the obvious place to go, at
the time.

XML is W3C's success.

That it was predicated on prior, extensive work that occurred over the
course of twenty or more years and which only peripherally involved W3C
(W3C's sponsorship of a strong candidate for worst-ever SGML profile
does indicate involvement of a sort, no?) does not change the fact that
the spec was published under the auspices (,editorial control, within
the policy framework of, ...) the W3C.

XPath and XSLT exist and are successful, I think, because James Clark
had the brass-plated gall (and talent, and experience, and network of
folks who believed in him and in the things he believed in) to hijack
the near-moribund XSL committee and release independently.  Which is,
nonetheless, a success of the W3C, because however odd the system got
before "T" separated from "FO", the process, somehow, ended up working
well enough to generate another really good (set of) spec(s).  It was,
and still is, I think, published by W3C.

>XML is successful because years of work in the 
>ISO SGML world and the implementors of those 
>systems, years of conferences and meetings 
>were brought to fruition.  

Calculus is successful because of years of work in the fields of algebra,
trigonometry, and geometry, and the people most involved in advancing
those fields through years (centuries) of dedication were able to bring
it to fruition.

There aren't any dwarves around to stand on the shoulders of, sorry.

>HTML was a botch, 
>Amy, a broken design that could only be fixed 
>if the rigor of full markup was brought to 
>bear and that couldn't be done by the working 
>groups that created HTML.

HTML was an important demonstration of some of the weaknesses in SGML,
notably laxness in parsing as related to markup minimization.  (in
other words, not a botch, but a grand, magnificent, *splattery* botch).

>Internet time had nothing to do with it.  
>Internet mail lists did.  The only difference 
>was moving the management focus and applying 
>hyper-hype to the results for which some 
>penalties have been exacted.

I don't follow your argument here; I believe that you're challenging
one of mine, but I'm not sure which.  That W3C's first success was in
the Treaty of HTML 3.2, and that the treaty would not have existed if
not for the Great Browser Wars of the Nineties?  I wasn't suggesting
that HTML 3.2 was anything like XML, either in content or in process;
that was, after all the subject heading ... that in XML, W3C may have
freed itself from the need to be a peacemaker and conciliator, and may
have reached a point at which it could become a "standards" body,
verifying conformance to (what else?) XML.

>It took both ISO experts and W3C experts 
>and invited experts to put XML out into 
>the world.  It took volunteers, cooperation, 
>and grit.  It wasn't pleasant.  It was necessary.
>It is the success of bridging the polities 
>and getting them to agree.

Hmmm.  Is the thrust of this, then, a rebuttal of my derision of ISO? 
Perhaps that's deserved, although the pace of development of SGML seems
to me to have been rather placid, its focus largely document-oriented,
and I see no evidence that it would have evolved in the direction of
XML without a grand stinking botch to show up as many faults in the
existing definition as possible.  I doubt that we'd have an XML, or
anything similarly structured and parse-able, without a W3C under which
to issue it (of course, that gets into what-ifs in the worst way, so
perhaps let's just not go there at all).

Amelia A. Lewis          alicorn@m...          amyzing@t...
What makes me think I could start clean-slated?
        The hardest to learn was the least complicated.
                                                -- Emily Saliers


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