Call for unifying and clarifying XML 1.0, DOM, XPATH, and XML Infoset

Steven R. Newcomb srn at
Tue Jan 25 18:20:40 GMT 2000

[Nils Klarlund:]
> XML should be about a universal and simple model of trees based on
> the linear syntax of XML 1.0, right?  Well, it's not.  I hope to
> generate a discussion of how the current multitude of models can be
> unified.  This message is long, reflecting the enormity of the
> confusion that's being sown.  And, I want to convince everybody
> who's interested that it'll be a conspicuous failure not to unify
> terminology and models; conversely, I believe that at a little
> price, involving a small amount of back-pedaling, XML could get an
> attractive and universal model.  Time is running out, however.

I continue to find it astonishing and frustrating that, despite the
fact that all this was already straightened out, and very cleanly
indeed, in the ISO/IEC 10744:1997 international standard, excellent
people like Nils Klarlund still don't know about it, or, if they do,
they choose to ignore it.  Nils's analysis of this situation fails to
even mention groves and property sets, much less compare their
carefully balanced elegance with the ongoing W3C design chaos that he
so deplores.

Meanwhile the W3C insists on reinventing everything, badly, in a state
of profound confusion about what they're doing, with predictable
results.  When ISO 10744 concepts are adopted by the W3C, as has
happened several times now, the underlying concepts that keep all the
concepts working well together and in balance with each other are
*not* adopted predictable results.  The DOM, for example, is
partly the result of adopting the SGML Property Set, without adopting
the concept of what a property set is and what a grove is.  (There are
other equally compelling examples.)

Hey, people, why not pay some attention to something that works, for a
change, instead of paying so much attention to the pathetic spectacle
of a dog chasing its own tail?  If the W3C were led rationally by
people with the public interest at heart, the fact that the relevant
ISO stuff actually works would get some serious attention there.  As
things are, it's a thought-crime punishable by excommunication even to
utter the dreaded ISO 10744 term "architectural form" within earshot
of the W3C.  Either they simply don't get it, or, if they do, they
have made their minds up and they don't want to be confused by the
facts.  Or they characterize themselves as political pragmatists,
making irresponsible technical decisions that are guided, first of
all, by the technical misunderstandings, irrational phobias, and pet
projects of Tim Berners-Lee.  After all, if their work runs afoul of
any of Tim's misunderstandings, phobias, or pet projects, it cannot be
adopted.  It's no wonder that technical things are such a mess at the
W3C: its structural problems are profound and intractable.

As Nils fears, maybe the W3C will reform its chaotic technical
situation after it's too late, after monopolistic commercial interests
have made the W3C's multi-flawed approaches irrelevant by simply
running them over.  However, after that has happened, much as we may
love Microsoft, we cannot expect the public interest to be served by
unregulated software monopolies.  We can expect to pay annual tribute
to them forever, not only in the form of money, but also (and much
more expensively) in the form of lost productivity, because of the
lack of effective marketplace competition.  That loss of productivity
hurts all of us, and all of our children, and all of our children's
children, indefinitely.  Think about how much work you have lost
because of Windows crashing, just for an exceptionally obvious (and
extremely irritating) example.  One of the W3C's structural problems
is that the business plans of the software monopolists who control the
W3C may actually benefit from a situation in which the W3C's many
excellent people cannot develop a comprehensive, sensible approach to
online information management and publishing.  The vacuum thus created
is a playground for software monopolists.

Although it's too much to ask, I hope that everyone who makes
technical decisions at the W3C will ponder my views, insist upon
structural reforms, and understand the unifying and balancing concepts
of ISO/IEC 10744.  (As one of the editors of 10744, I've been willing
and available to help them understand these ideas for the last three
years, but, despite repeatedly knocking on the door, I've been
uniformly excluded from all W3C undertakings.  Eliot Kimber, another
editor of 10744, was involved in W3C activities until he quit in
disgust when the recommendations of his committee were capriciously
overturned by the Director.)  The W3C's insistence on reinventing
everything, without understanding both the failures and successes of
preceding efforts, is childish, lazy, and extremely irresponsible.
Not to mention "dictatorial" -- a word which springs to mind because
of the lack of any lawful mechanism for removing Tim Berners-Lee from
a post for which he is obviously underqualified.  Perhaps the single
most profound structural problem at the W3C is the W3C Directorship's
absolute authority, which serves as a means of avoiding public
scrutiny of the W3C's private, very arguably
conspiracy-in-restraint-of-trade deliberations, while avoiding
antitrust prosecution under the Sherman Act.

Shame on the press for failing to make all this abundantly clear to
the public, whose interests the press is supposed to protect by
exposing exactly these kinds of issues.  It's discouraging that so
much of the press is in bed with Microsoft (a major, major advertiser)
and with the W3C ("I can't afford to alienate my access to a secret
process, man").  The W3C's enormous influence is the creature of the
press, as is the lack of influence garnered by ISO 10744.

Reform only comes by people thinking for themselves and doing whatever
seems best, even when nobody else is doing it.  It takes courage and
candor.  It's expensive for individuals (M.L. King springs to mind),
but it's the only way society makes any progress.  If your personal
comfort is more important to you than the progress of society and the
welfare of everyone, including but not limited to yourself, then I'm
wasting my breath.


Note: The views expressed herein are exactly the same as those of my

Steven R. Newcomb, President, TechnoTeacher, Inc.
srn at

voice: +1 972 517 7954
fax    +1 972 517 4571

Suite 211
7101 Chase Oaks Boulevard 
Plano, Texas 75025 USA

xml-dev: A list for W3C XML Developers. To post, mailto:xml-dev at
Archived as: or CD-ROM/ISBN 981-02-3594-1
Unsubscribe by posting to majordom at the message
unsubscribe xml-dev  (or)
unsubscribe xml-dev your-subscribed-email at your-subscribed-address

Please note: New list subscriptions now closed in preparation for transfer to OASIS.

More information about the Xml-dev mailing list