coming clean with the SGML crowd (was re: namespaces)

Richard L. Goerwitz III richard at
Fri Sep 11 05:25:19 BST 1998

> > ...the more XML loses its connection with SGML.
> That is not true. SGML is not a static thing. It can change.

XML has not even made it out of the gate yet; yet SGML has been off and run-
ning since the 80s.  The notion of huge government text bases, corporate docu-
mentation libraries, and long-term academic research projects suddenly tearing
off after XML seems a bit unrealistic.

XML right now is, well, only slightly more than a dream.  I have a hard time
even finding valid XML document instances on the net.  Its APIs are almost all done
in Java (itself a moving target which, despite the hype, has precious few major
applications to its credit).  And its supporters have fallen to squabbling.

The main reason we need XML, as we all know, is that HTML has become a presenta-
tion language.  Despite its nominal connections with SGML, HTML betrays many of
the shortcomings of the typesetting languages the SGML community railed against
during the 80s.

The trouble with SGML, though, was that it was an embarrassment to anyone who
has taken a moment to examine a book on parsing or automaton theory.  And it was
far too big to be useful to anyone who didn't have major financial and human
resources at his or her disposal.  (Let's count out loud the number of SGML pro-
cessors out there that actually do anything useful; it'll only take a few sec-

XML was conceived as a way to steer a middle course, i.e., a course away from
HTML's obsession with presentation markup and away from SGML's computational na-
ivete and bloat.  XML was a way to capture the purity of SGML's vision without
sacrificing elegance or simplicity.

I believe that everyone on this list understands these goals, and that most
are trying to achieve them.  We are not working together, though.  Factions
are splitting off willy nilly, and core WG members (many of whom probably don't
even bother to read this group) often seem to take annoyingly paternalistic, if
not outrightly dismissive and arrogant, stances - further fanning the flames of
discontent and further splintering the nascent XML community.

I don't really know what to develop for right now, what with confusion over our
design goals, about namespaces, about XSL, SGML compatibility, and virtually
everything else.  Perhaps if we could all agree on a few basics, we could set-
tle things down.

Here are two questions for discussion:

  1) Do we have an easy pathway for integrating alternative (non-DTD) schemas?
  2) Can we secure a namespace spec that is either harmless or capable of
     being integrated with any of several schema mechanisms?

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