Do SGML and XML co-exist?

Matthew Gertner matthew at
Wed Nov 17 10:26:45 GMT 1999

Len Bullard wrote:
> Interesting, but nah.  XML won because Microsoft backed
> it.  Plain and simple.  The differences between the
> features of the practice aren't that great.  The size is.
> The money came and when the money voted, the money voted
> for a namechange and a change of venue.  Selah.
> Same dumb stuff, just cheaper and better integrated into
> the windowing system and the network.

Yeah? I always tell the same story about the origins of XML, so I'd be
interested to know if it is wrong. :-O Basically, goes the story, round
about the genesis of HTML 4.0 the HTML folks started to realize that
even with the best of intentions and a heck of a lot of hard work they
were never going to get even a small proportion of the tags that people
(and influential companies) wanted into the language. Moreover, the
undesirability of this approach, even if practicable, was starting to
become clear (witness the length of the HTML 4.0 spec).

So they started to dream up something along the lines of generic markup
using ghastly DIV and CLASS tags. This came to the notice of the SGML
folks, who screamed bloody murder and started lobbying for SGML, with
its time-tested approach to generic markup, to be the new language for
the web. The reaction of the HTML crowd was immediate: not SGML, of all
things, it's far too scary and complicated! So some forward-thinking
types from the SGML community came up with the idea of simplying SGML
significantly in order to make it acceptable as a mass-market web
language. Whence XML.

Am I close? Assuming so, technical issues certainly were the primary
motivating factor for XML. Denying this is a pretty extreme view (not
that this surprises me, Len :-). The "features of the practice" may not
be all that different, but the fact that to write a conformant SGML
parser you needed (according to one statement I heard at an SGML
conference as XML was coming to the fore) "to have the resources of the
U.S. government or to be James Clark" surely had something to do with
the chorus of demands for simplication in exchange for ubiquity. Not
everything is a money-driven conspiracy.


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