Steven Champeon schampeo at hesketh.com
Thu Nov 18 14:42:25 GMT 1999

On Wed, 17 Nov 1999, Tim Bray wrote:
> For the record.  By the end of 1995, anyone with half a brain could see that
> HTML was just not up to some of the jobs that people wanted to get done on 
> the Web.  In parallel, some of us had been shouting at the SGML crowd from
> inside for years that SGML needed radical simplification.  I can remember
> like yesterday at the big SGML conference in 93 or 92 or so, standing around
> with Steve DeRose and Jean Paoli and Erik Naggum (most XMLers won't remember
> him) agreeing that we ought to do this.  But we didn't, then.

Erik Naggum was the moderator (after a fashion) of comp.text.sgml, FWIW.
I learned more from Erik about how to manage a community of hard-headed
geeks than I've learned from anyone before or since.

The other thing to remember about SGML (in addition to its complexity,
which XML is supposed to answer) is that although the structure and
storage problems had been more or less solved, the display and
presentation problems remained more or less intractable. Author/Editor,
the application we used to markup documents at the end of a lengthy
paper->.sgm conversion process, had /some/ support for styling, using
a proprietary scheme-based language. I'd heard nightmarish reports of
the difficulties inherent in mastering FOSI, from others in the NC SGML
Users Group. Panorama was two years late in delivering Web-based SGML.

And in the meantime, HTML was easy to learn, easy to use, and showed
up in all its styled glory in any browser you chose. And it just got
"better", in terms of what it could do in that direction. It just never
got better in terms of what you could do structurally. 

Is it any wonder that HTML was doomed? It solved, in a few short months,
the display problems that plagued SGML for ten years, and subsequently
ignored its roots in a rigorous, structure-oriented language.

Ask any Web developer which "tags" they know. Many of them couldn't tell
you two alternatives to <B> and <I>, or what the <DIR> "tag" does. But
every last one knows the vagaries of TABLE, FRAMESET, and <BR CLEAR=ALL>.

I sure hope that the forthcoming browsers choose to focus on support for
XML+CSS, so we can actually have browsers that support both structure /and/
style when rigor is returned to the Web.


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