Parents and children (was RFD: comp.text.xml)

Rick Jelliffe ricko at
Wed May 6 08:52:19 BST 1998

From: Paul Prescod <papresco at>
> XML inherits 95% of everything that made SGML difficult
>to apply and use...The flexibility, the dangerous parameter entities, the
>responsibility for defining your own tags, your own stylesheets and your
>own systems. The responsibility to define standards and stick to them. The
>perceived and real need to bend them. It's all there.

I think this is a good point.

Markup languages have to cope with text--it is a different world to tagging
nice simple fielded records of databases.  People who are coming to
text new usually have no idea the enormous richness of text--standard
generalized markup languages (i.e. XML aka SGML) attempt to provide
a very simple mechanism to cope with it--an element hierarchy with
and ID/IDREFs to allow graph structures to be represented. But the
richness of text, and the sophistication of what people want to do with it,
means that a simple tool like a standard generalized markup language
makes many problems tractable but still not simple.

People will blame the tool (XML), but the enemy is text itself.

Anyway, people have trouble with standards (e.g. look at all the W3C
which give a puported EBNF syntax), with the generalized approach (e.g. that
famous web page "The Web is ruined and I ruined it"--sorry no URL), with
markup (e.g. those who want documents to be embedded in programming
languages) and with languages (e.g. the people who want to use a binary
format for everything because of sometimes misplaced notions of efficiency).

People already baulk at each of these 4 issues, sometimes appropriately,
sometimes inappropriately.  These central issues are much more important
than the readability or implementability of ISO 8879 versus REC-XML.
No matter how simple XML became, IMHO people will still resist buying into
XML's standard generalized markup langage approach.

In the Byte issue about XML, Gates says something about XML being preferred
for the moment. So from their top we can see that Microsoft has not bought
into XML as a strategy, but just as a tactic.  The RDF people still see XML
as a serialization format, which suggests that they may see DOM as more
important than XML.  So I think we should not fool ourselves that XML's
is assured.  People who have not grown used them often have a mental block
against standard generalized markup languages and always wish they would
go away in favour of semi-proprietary, low-level, procedural, binary

Rick Jelliffe

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