SGML/XML 98 Paris, another take

Jon Bosak Jon.Bosak at eng.Sun.COM
Thu May 28 01:00:20 BST 1998

[Simon North:]

| Namespaces: no-one is happy about namespaces.

I don't think that's an accurate assessment at all.  In some quarters,
there is dancing in the streets about namespaces.  The specification
exactly meets the needs of some really important constituencies.

| Maybe I should leave it to Jon himself to speak his piece, but in the
| panel session on the current status of the standards (SGML + XML) he
| said that XML was almost stopped in its tracks by the W3C because
| other working groups claimed that the XML group was not giving them
| what they needed.

That's true.  But they were right: we weren't giving them what they

| Namespaces was more or less forced on them (he didn't actually say the
| words 'ad hoc solution' but that was the flavour) and there are a lot
| of problems with it.

What I said, if I remember correctly, was that the needs of other WGs
forced completion of the Namespace draft much more quickly than would
have been the case in an ISO setting (this was in the context of
reports from me regarding W3C XML WG status and from Goldfarb, Price,
and Peterson regarding ISO/IEC WG4 status).  I said that this gave us
much less time than I would have wanted to spend on the problem, which
is exceedingly deep, and that as a consequence I personally am very
nervous about whether we got it right.  In fact, we were (as a result
of this nervousness) so conservative in what we actually specified
that we probably *did* get it right, and, for all I know, may even
have produced a perfect solution.  But it will take some
implementation to be sure about this.

One thing I may not have been sufficiently clear about in my report
was that the nervousness I personally feel about the namespace draft
isn't about its ability to solve the problems it was designed for
(there is universal agreement among the groups for which it was
produced that it does) but about the complexities it raises for
traditional DTD validation.  I probably should have been more explicit
about this.

However, I was crystal clear -- and I'm a little disappointed that
Simon didn't seem to hear this part -- about the fact that a solution
to the namespace problem is mission-critical to a number of very
important current efforts, not the least of which is the entire
electronic commerce initiative, and that the demands by at least three
W3C working groups and an IETF working group for a quick solution,
while they made our lives miserable for a few months, were in fact
entirely reasonable from the viewpoint of the very large issues that
those groups are trying to deal with.  The fact that solving this kind
of problem in a limited amount of time leaves people like me feeling
queasy for a while is just one aspect of life in the big city.  In
industry you accept real requirements and real deadlines and you do
the best you can with them.  The results are judged on the basis of
how well you execute within the given constraints, not on the basis of
theoretical perfection.  The fact is that the Namespace spec solves
some fundamental problems, and in the end, that's what matters.

In pointing out the differences between specification definition in an
industrial setting (the W3C process) and specification definition in
an international standards setting (the ISO process) I certainly
didn't mean to imply that we had produced an inferior product; quite
the contrary -- I'm very proud of the WG for the work it did in
responding to real requirements in a timely fashion, and I believe
that the solution we produced is the best that could possibly have
been done under the real-life circumstances we had to work with.  I
think that the WG and, in particular, the three editors of the
Namespace draft -- Tim Bray, Dave Hollander, and Andrew Layman --
deserve a huge round of applause for producing a pivotal specification
that will enable commerce and collaborative interaction over the web
on a scale that will make what's happened so far look like a warmup


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