Has XML run its course?
[No, I'm not suggesting that all of us working with XML abandon our projects and tools and retreat to binary formats or some such.] A number of messages and encounters over the last year have left me wondering ever more deeply about XML as a project. Pretty much every new XML-related draft from the W3C has made me reconsider whether XML itself still has any life in it, and whether the XML project of today looks anything like the XML project that first began five years ago. I wasn't there at the beginning - I was a relative latecomer, getting here only in 1997. The initial goals laid out in the XML 1.0 specification were downright inspiring, though, even as the draft was, well, forbidding to those of us without extensive SGML experience. Those goals were motivating enough to drive me to read and publish on that document, and to spend a few years of personal professional time pretty much devoted to XML. I can't say it's been time wasted, by any means, but I'm starting to move away from the three letters "XML" as they seem to have morphed into something with only a distant resemblance to the original XML 1.0. While XML 1.0 was a brave attempt to do much more with less, and standardize on that less, the follow-up development has been an effort to do more with more, and only roughly standardize the results. (There are lots of 'standard' specs, it's just not clear which get used by whom when and why.) Looking over XML, SGML, and (X)HTML, there are definitely common threads which provide a recipe for success. Human-readable embedded markup seems to make a lot of people happy, as does the ability to edit such markup in a text editor if necessary. The explicit structures of XML - those enforced end-tags - also seem to strike a chord with a lot of people, even some of those who complained initially. Flexible hierarchical structures seem to make everyone except relational purists happy. Beyond those basics, I'm not sure there's enough to keep a standards community together. I don't think it's possible any longer for one person to keep track of everything happening in the XML space, and the disconnects between specifications seem to be growing wider rapidly. Recent threads on SOAP suggest that SOAP is leaving behind much of XML 1.0 while embracing notions from XML Schema. Interactions between XPath, XPointer, XInclude, and W3C XML Schema are difficult to plot on a chart, and even XLink is now used as a means of validating conditions across multiple documents. (XSLT has already played a role in Schematron and Examplotron.) As a result of this divergence, and despite the power of many of the tools described above, it seems that the original promise of a common syntax that could support both data and documents intelligently is fading. The unity of information representation XML once suggested is proving ephemeral, broken substantially by the weight of the additional features labeled "XML whatever" piled on to it. Obscurity is moving in rapidly, and the pace of specification development is slowing as the intricacies and junctures become more complex. I suspect XML as 'XML' is dying. Long live markup! Simon St.Laurent "Every day in every way I'm getting better and better." - Emile Coue
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