Is XML for the peons or the gods? (was What is XML for?)

Mark Birbeck Mark.Birbeck at
Sun Jan 31 17:55:48 GMT 1999

> I do think you could do wonderful complex things on top of XML if 
> you keep the
> standard spec simple

I think it is pretty simple. It is very impressive in that it doesn't
try to do everything - like some sort of ADA or something. It must have
been tempting to try and put XLink/XSchema/XPointer/XSL-type features
into the original spec, and then it would never have seen the light of

> (namespaces are something that is really 
> a contradiction to
> simplicity

An important issue, as far as I understand it, is how do I build on
other people's work? If someone else builds a great DTD for financial
transactions, and I want a DTD for selling fish-tanks on the web, surely
I should devise a DTD just for specifying fish-tank sizes, and then use
a namespace for the financial parts? Evolution then becomes incredibly
rapid, as we all build on each other's work. It's a bit like the
productivity gains you got in the old days when decent, affordable
compilers (and assemblers!) emerged, and you began to write your code
quicker by building on other's developments.

> In the end,
> all of these additions make supporting XML more difficult and 
> far less useful to
> the "masses".

Not sure whether 'the masses' are actually programming computers anyway.
Perhaps within the software world you may be distinguishing between
'hobbyists' and 'professionals'. Whatever. I think that the less
experienced developer has plenty to get their teeth into. For example,
if they were to write their own video-tape library program today, they
might use Access or some such. The changes we are seeing are that if
they were to write their program so that it understood XML, then they
could download film titles from some site somewhere that had a complete
catalogue of all films - or whatever. In other words, if you want to
increase the possibilities of your software talking to loads of other
software in the future - in ways you haven't yet thought of - then use

And this goes for the 'Gods' too. Office 2000 is to use XML, as is
Shockwave and QuarkXPress. Now in one sense, you could say these big
guys gain nothing, because for their applications it is simply a case of
using a different file format - this week its proprietary, next week its
a bit more accessible. But actually what happens is they become part of
whatever other innovations take place; when the new generation of search
engines are implemented that tidily cope with XML, for example, all of
their documents immediately become searchable, on fields like author,
last modified, project name, etc. This is not so with their own secret

> No developer including myself wants to spend a ton of time 
> learning and doing
> things with a technology that is going to die because the 
> leaders of that
> technology are not sensitive to the needs of the underlings 
> who actually use it.

That's a different question. You seem to think it's someone else's job
to ensure that you don't take a wrong turn when implementing your
projects. I moved from assembler to C, to C++, and from Unix to Windows
3.0, to NT, and I don't remember anyone at any of those key junctures
knowing for sure which way was right!

Mark Birbeck
Managing Director
Intra Extra Digital Ltd.
39 Whitfield Street
t: 0171 681 4135
e: Mark.Birbeck at

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