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Binary XML == "spawn of the devil" ?

  • To: "xml-dev@l..." <xml-dev@l...>
  • Subject: Binary XML == "spawn of the devil" ?
  • From: Mike Champion <mc@x...>
  • Date: Thu, 24 Jul 2003 11:17:55 -0400
  • User-agent: Opera7.03/Win32 M2 build 2670

spawn of the devil

Since this seems to be "old permathread week" at xml-dev, let's revisit 
another ...I had been waiting for the W3C to publicize the upcoming Binary 
XML workshop before talking about it on xml-dev, but the meme is loose in 
the wild thanks to Marc Hadley (http://weblogs.java.net/pub/wlg/263) and 
Elliotte Rusty Harold (http://www.ibiblio.org/xml/)  Apparently the 
announcement will be made publicly readable "real soon now" (presumably the 
delay was to give dues paying W3C members a bit of a head start), and my 
understanding is that non-W3C members will be allowed to present position 
papers and attend if they are accepted.

Elliote's commentary actually echos the disclaimers at the top of the 
(still private) meeting announcement, and a deeply rooted sentiment in 
parts of the W3C that this whole idea is the "spawn of the devil" (quoting 
literally from some very well known people who can identify themselves if 
they wish!).

Elliotte makes a couple of points that illustrate very clearly what is at 
stake here:

"Some developers either don't believe or don't get XML's value proposition 
of a compatible, interoperable, editable, text format."  - I suspect that 
everyone believes that, but some see it as only one dimension of a multi- 
dimensional value space, and others see it as a sine qua non.

"They falsely believe that binary formats are significantly faster or 
smaller than XML, which is almost never true in practice"  - AFAIK, that's 
exactly what the workshop is trying to determine: What is the evidence that 
'binary XML' can be faster or smaller in realistic scenarios.  My 
understanding (from a lot of inputs, most of which I can't discuss) is that 
the "bloat" issue is a red herring because gzip works wonderfully on XML 
text, but that there is an approximately one order of magnitude processing 
overhead of XML compared with the previous generation of RPC, asynchronous 
messaging, and EDI technology.  An order of magnitude here, and a recession 
there, and soon you've got problems that Moore's Law doesn't solve anytime 

"Worse yet, some vendors are deliberately trying to lock developers into 
their patented, closed, binary, "XML" formats" -- Perhaps, but again the 
whole point of the workshop is to determine whether an open standard would 
be useful in preventing this scenario *if* tangible benefits can be 
demonstrated.  I think there are a lot more vendors who realize that 
various aspects of XML's text format cause significant overhead, but won't 
even think about alternatives unless there is some standardization to allow 
interoperability.  FWIW, that describes my employer's position [or rather, 
the consensus of us geeks who have looked into the matter, obviously not 
the "official" company line].

"The binary formats actually already exist, and the market has ignored them 
with a resounding silence. They have achieved no traction and no interest 
in the community."  -- Interesting point ... I don't see it this way, but 
would love to see some discussion about it.

" These are toxic technologies that serve no one's interests. They 
significantly compromise the XML promise of interoperable, interchangeable 
data that can be processed by a host of free, simple, readily available 
tools." -- The main counter-argument that I'm seeing is that XML-based 
projects/applications are having a hard time making the transition from 
"concept proven" to "actually deployed" in mainstream, non-early-adopter 
businesses.  "Bloated" and "sluggish" are frequently used at least in the 
recent trade press articles slamming XML, and AFAIK this stems at least in 
part from from the problems real people are seeing when they plan to scale 
up a proof-of-concept XML project to a "bet the business" proposition.   I 
agree that only a small minority of "XML" users will need to exchange 
binary infoset serializations, but we will *all* benefit by having a growth 
path from free/simple/text tools to industrial-strength "bet the business 
on" technologies.

Anyway, flame away .... I need to figure out what to say in my position 
paper :-)



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