What Clean Specs Achieve

Tyler Baker tyler at infinet.com
Sat Feb 6 19:54:57 GMT 1999

Mark Birbeck wrote:

> But don't tell me that someone using Office 2000 to write a letter to
> their bank manager needs to understand namespaces. And that is not
> elitist, colonialist or patronising - I credit people with more
> intelligence than wanting to understand quantum physics before they
> switch the TV on. The truth is that if people want to be at the leading
> edge of thought in *any* discipline, then they better get used to the
> idea that nothing worth understanding is ever easy. If it was, it would
> be 'common sense' and therefore nothing new. If someone really wants to
> write their own parser and they are having trouble understanding
> namespaces, they should seriously ask if they are ready for such an
> undertaking.

I don't consider XML even with namespaces to be anything revolutionary or bleeding edge.  XML
is supposedly a "standards" effort at creating a simple markup language for the web, not some
technology exploration.  This whole "Namespaces in XML" stuff seems unfortunately to be a
technology exploration.  Instead of trying something simple, the W3C decided to create
something totally new.  Now I am all for creativity and technical exploration, but certainly
not in a standards effort.  If XML is not going to be simple, why use XML at all when there
supposedly are much more powerful and well-established standardized alternatives like SGML in
existence that get the job done.  Why should XML be just another reinvention of the wheel.  I
mean come on, markup should not be rocket science folks.  I could create my own markup
language in a small amount of time with all kinds of features, but it would not be
standardized as many people would likely not agree with some of my ideas.  So that is what
standards are about: simplicity and concensus.  Anything less and it is not a standard but a
glorified document with lots of "expert" names on it.

> As I keep saying, I'm not arguing for specs that are *more* difficult to
> understand - it's not exactly the most profound utterance to say
> 'clearer is better'. But at the same time I personally don't immediately
> try to blame someone else if I don't understand something, and I
> particularly don't think anyone *owes* me anything. If the spec writers
> are good enough to spare some time and answer some of my questions I am
> very grateful, but it is *not* their obligation.

I guess this goes right down to the heart of the question of XML's intended audience.  My
impression was that XML was intended primarily as a simple markup language for the web.  If
XML is just a hyped up subset of SGML, then what good does it buy me or the majority of the
web as a tool for the general user-audience.  After all HTML is crap, but tons and tons of
people with absolutely no programming experience can pick it up rather fast.  I feel the same
can be said of XML if you ignore namespaces.  If "Namespaces in XML" are dropped from XSL and
remain an optional layer on top of XML, then I would stop complaining right now as "Namespaces
in XML" will die off on its own because only a very few people will want to use it.


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