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RE: s-expressions and XML was Re: terra incognita

  • To: xml-dev@l...
  • Subject: RE: s-expressions and XML was Re: terra incognita
  • From: "Champion, Mike" <Mike.Champion@S...>
  • Date: Tue, 18 Dec 2001 08:26:47 -0700

terra incognita wg

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Jonathan Borden [mailto:jborden@m...]
> Sent: Tuesday, December 18, 2001 9:49 AM
> To: David Brownell; Joe English; xml-dev@l...; Tim Bray
> Subject:  s-expressions and XML was Re:  terra
> incognita
> There are many similarities between LISP and XSLT, excepting 
> of course that XML et al. have been solidly backed by commercial folk, at 
> least that is the claim. Perhaps the differences are more to do with
marketing than
> technology.

Richard P. Gabriel's Worse is Better essay
(http://www.ai.mit.edu/docs/articles/good-news/subsection3.2.1.html see also
http://www.dreamsongs.com/WorseIsBetter.html) is the classic explanation of
why LISP is a marginal technology today and Unix/C/DOS/Windows/etc. is
everywhere.  Everyone should read it a couple of times a year ... or
whenever the thought that doing the Right Thing will pay the bills starts to
infect one's consciousness.

Here's "worse is better" in a nutshell ... see if you think it fits in with
XML's success so far.

"The worse-is-better philosophy is only slightly different:

Simplicity-the design must be simple, both in implementation and interface.
It is more important for the implementation to be simple than the interface.
Simplicity is the most important consideration in a design.

Correctness-the design must be correct in all observable aspects. It is
slightly better to be simple than correct.

Consistency-the design must not be overly inconsistent. Consistency can be
sacrificed for simplicity in some cases, but it is better to drop those
parts of the design that deal with less common circumstances than to
introduce either implementational complexity or inconsistency.

Completeness-the design must cover as many important situations as is
practical. All reasonably expected cases should be covered. Completeness can
be sacrificed in favor of any other quality. In fact, completeness must
sacrificed whenever implementation simplicity is jeopardized. Consistency
can be sacrificed to achieve completeness if simplicity is retained;
especially worthless is consistency of interface."

Intriguingly, I sat near a member of the W3C Schema working group on a plane
a couple of years ago, and he was reading the Worse is Better essay
(apparently it was "assigned reading" for the WG).  I wonder what they
concluded from the assignment; it would appear that most recent W3C
activities are the antithesis of Worse is Better.   Simplicity is being
sacrificed for correctness and completeness, and specs are held up for years
while they try to sort out consistency.  This is obviously the Right Thing
to do, but does it take XML down the same road to oblivion that LISP
traveled?  Time will tell ...



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