Regulating the XML Marketplace

Paul Prescod paul at
Fri Jan 8 15:52:48 GMT 1999

[someone sent me an email to say that they got six of my last post...
did anyone else have that problem?]

"Simon St.Laurent" wrote:
> ...
> There are thousands, if not millions, of possibilities that XML enables.

This is where we disagree. I don't think you can name even one. XML does
not enable new applications in the sense that Java made Tic-Tac-Toe
possible. XML just makes them more affordable by sharing development and
R&D costs through standardized interchange. It is no coincidence that for
most of the new XML-based languages being created there was a non-XML
equivalent before.

I'm not saying that XML is not exciting. I'm saying that there is no
killer app or even "really cool demo." There will never be a demo of
XML-based technology that is substantially more interesting than that same
demo based on legacy or proprietary formats. Word will not instantly
become more fun and exciting to use when it exports XML. Furthermore,
Microsoft has built support for Word so deeply into the operating system
that it will take years for XML to be as "standard" there.

> Yes, you can do all kinds of junk to data in any proprietary way that you
> like.  You can have all the fun in the world processing data any way you
> want - but when it comes time to share that information, it ain't much good.

Data is shared in proprietary or legacy formats every day! We are carrying
on this email conversation entirely without XML's help. If the email
protocols were being invented today, they might use XML, and maybe the
files would be a little easier to parse. But the email program would not
do anything significantly different. (sociological factors are hard to
predict...maybe if we used XML mail the idea of formatted email text would
have caught on earlier and more forcefully...I'm speaking of technical
factors, not sociological ones)

> Of course you could do it another way, but don't we have enough damn closed
> boxes already?  

Being non-XML is not the same as being a closed box. The first standard
meta-syntax is probably the Lisp S-expression. Over several years of
considering it, the only technical advantage I can come up with for XML
is: "easier to type and read." That's a significant advantage, but not one
that is going to lead us to a killer app or demo.

> Instead of shutting down discussion by claiming that XML
> isn't good for anything new, why don't we try to expand it by figuring out
> how XML fits into the old and improves it significantly?

Because XML alone won't improve anything significantly. At best it can
save money. Perhaps it depends on what definition of XML we are using. Do
we include all of the new standards that use XML syntax? Even the ones
that were under development before XML existed?

Extended linking can allow new applications, but extended linking predates
XML and SGML. You can do extended linking with S-expressions.

RDF was under development under various names before it was encoded in XML

XSL is a little different. As far as I know, it is the only standardized
declarative tree transformation language. It IS something new under the

[Rob Schoening]
>  I believe that this is due, in part, to the fact that XML applications 
> are still fairly esoteric. [unlike Java]... The applets attracted 
> eyeballs.  The minds and ears followed.

XML itself is only a serious money saver. That may not be cool enough to
sustain the current hype, but I don't see that as a problem. The hype is
inherently unsustainable and not useful anyhow.

 Paul Prescod  - ISOGEN Consulting Engineer speaking for only himself

"I want to give beauty pageants the respectability they deserve."
            - Brooke Ross, Miss Canada International

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