Questioning XSL

Eric Bohlman ebohlman at
Sat May 22 05:53:02 BST 1999

On Fri, 21 May 1999, Paul Prescod wrote:

> I think that it is worth noting that most of the people who are in the
> "XSL camp" are people are thoroughly familiar with scripting languages.
> The reverse is not true. We have tried both and found the XSL way to be
> more convenient. There is no programming language that quite captures
> XSL's optimized mix of "polymorphic dispatch", pattern matching and
> convenient template description.

It also appears to me, from what I've read of the controversy, that most
of the people in the anti-XSL camp seem to be thinking of XML primarily as
a medium for writing Web pages to be displayed in browsers.  I'm wondering
if they're really reacting to Microsoft's emphasis on browser-integrated
XSL, which from what I've seen of it appears to follow the traditional
Microsoft pattern of making simple tasks complicated, at least from the
programmer's point of view, and which some people *could* construe as
being part of a "de-commodification" strategy.

I certainly do agree with Hakon Lie's point that it would be a disaster if
XSL formatting objects caught on as a document-delivery medium (I've done
a good deal of accessibility work and am a member of the Techwatch
taskforce, an advisory group to the US National Council on Disability).
We need to be pushing rendering and similar interpretive decisions as
close to the final client as possible, not making them as early as
possible.  Otherwise XML merely becomes a DTP-oriented replacement for
HTML, which is what we've been trying to get away from.

I'm wondering if a better transformation language could be built on an
awk-style pattern/action structure, where the patterns would be something
like XQL expressions (or possibly even XPointers) and the actions would be
arbitrary code in any convenient scripting language, with a convention for
representing the data matched by the patterns.

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