More XML Identity Angst

David Megginson david at
Mon Feb 22 17:05:09 GMT 1999

Rob Schoening writes:

 > 1) Putting the XML spec at the bottom presupposes that the markup
 > is the essential characteristic of XML.

Markup *is* the essential characteristic of XML -- XML is a markup
standard that describes how to represent a hierarchical structure in a
linear sequence of characters.  XML is *not* a complete system design,
a Golden Hammer, or an investor-appeal buzz-word.

Markup is not (necessarily) the essential characteristic of an
information system, a text repository, e-commerce, metadata-exchange,
browsing, or anything else.  XML can describe the part of the solution
(if any) that *does* have to do with markup; there are other terms to
describe other parts of the solution.

 > I would argue that the essential characteristic of XML--what gives
 > it so much potential--is the consistent data model that is shared
 > between the XML spec, DOM, Sax, RDF, etc.  

Yes, that model will be very exciting, it has enormous applicability,
and I believe that most application designers will work from the
abstractions in the model (often, as reflected through an interface)
rather than directly with the markup, but still, even if an abstract
model is better, that model is *not* XML; it is simply derivable from


 > More than anything, we need a *name* for the system that is
 > comprised of all of the specs discussed on this list.  Java is a
 > good example.  The java language spec, the virtual machine spec,
 > and the APIs, and the various implementations all fall under the
 > banner "Java".

Fortunately, we won't make this mistake (I hope).  XML can serialise
any type of information (some much more efficiently than others), and
most other information standards can use XML as a serialisation

 > This subtle organization has been instrumental in its success.
 > Microsoft tried to claim that Java was just the java language spec,
 > but Sun has arranged things so that that it is clear to the
 > objective observer that this is not the case.  More importantly,
 > the Java banner has ensured that Java ISVs have gone in a
 > consistent direction.  You might not agree with what Sun is doing,
 > but they're doing a hell of good job doing it.
 > XML is not heading down the same path.  

That path was probably right for Java, being a corporate initiative
and all, though it has made life hard for users.  For example, why do
I have to wait for the whole Java 1.2 port to Linux before I can use
(most of) the Java 1.2 class libraries?  Does the virtual machine
change that much with every library upgrade?  You'd think that they'd
at least be able to upgrade parts of the system separately.

That path doesn't make sense for XML.  If XML is ultimately successful
(and at this point, I'd bet a lot on its success), it will be
everywhere but will be nearly invisible, like IP.

All the best,


David Megginson                 david at

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