XML Killing the Web

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From: Håkon Wium Lie (howcome@opera.com)
Date: Fri Oct 06 2000 - 11:00:37 PDT

I don't find myself forkin non-Opera news very often, but the Dvorak
article below seems to relevant to too many people on this list and
I'm amazed it hasn't been forked yet.

Of course he's right. It's a mess. Which means client-side XML will
not get here soon and HTML will live forever. And and I will win my
2050 bet with Dave Long. Yum.


Killing the Web

By John C. Dvorak,

PC Magazine October 4, 2000 7:05 AM PT   Progress is all well and
fine, but when it comes at such a fast pace that it manages to confuse
things, I'm ready to complain. Ever since the invention of the desktop
computer, there has been a confusing set of battles waged between new
standards and old ones. The battles cause entrenched it managers, as
well as hordes of other people, to buck against new standards. This is
now happening with the Internet and the Web, as the elegant simplicity
of plain HTML is being shoved aside in favor of the increasingly
complex XML scene.

XML Complications

As XML (eXtensible Markup Language) becomes more prevalent, we can
only hope that HTML will continue to be viable for those who want
nothing more than a simple informational Web site for themselves or
their families, or for a small business. The way I see it, XML will
sneak into the scene, and eventually browsers will be optimized for
XML until simple HTML no longer displays properly.

XML began as a simple and much-needed concept. The idea was to find a
way to make data and text elements variable in such a way that
information could be presented in a more controlled yet dynamic
fashion. I have seen XML in action, and it can be quite powerful.

XML is, in many ways, a vague standard insofar as definitions of XML
elements are concerned. Already the XML scene is deteriorating into a
mess that requires full-time attention. By this I mean that the
average PC Magazine reader, who is generally no slouch, will not be
able to work with XML casually unless it is a full-time job. This does
not bode well for the Web as a populist mechanism.

Just look at the recent recommendations by the W3C (World Wide Web
Consortium), which dominates Web standards. The W3C has recently added
XSLT and XPath to the mix of XML-related standards to watch. XPath is
a FAT (file allocation table) applied to an XML document. Great, now
we need this kind of thing to keep track of a page. XSLT means
Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations. This amounts to a
conversion mechanism that is predefined so that various media can
adapt the XML Web page and view it exactly as it was created on
competing browsers. So instead of some universal way to handle XML on
different devices, you can define your own custom ways to handle it.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to new Web
developments surrounding XML. The biggest problem, and everyone is
fretting about it and doing nothing, is the vocabulary problem. An XML
element can be defined any way a programmer wants to define it. The
list of definitions is called the vocabulary. There are no universal
vocabularies, so each XML promoter just does things its own way. "Our
way is the best!" The next company over, of course, is doing XML
differently. For a large company that subscribed to the methodology of
company A and spent millions of dollars to do so, it will be
frustrating when, for some unknown reason, the company B approach
becomes universal and a true standard. Nobody knows what to do about

Death of simplicity These are just some of the many concerns I have
about XML. Just look at the recent topics at the Seybold Seminars.
I'll site a couple of the presentation titles here. Does XML seem to
be taking shape smoothly?

John Simpson's seminar at Seybold was titled "XML Q&A: Choosing an XML
Parser." His description read: "Validating or non-validating?
Java-based, Perl, or C? This month we tackle the tricky issue of which
parser to use for your XML applications." These are serious
programming concerns. This seminar marks the death of simplicity.

Then there was a seminar called "ebXML: Assembling the Rubik's Cube,"
given by Alan Kotok. This was described in the Seybold catalog this
way: "The fourth meeting of the Electronic Business XML working group
sees the initiative making good progress. But will the group be able
to meet its self-imposed 18-month deadline?" Apparently it won't, or
else the question would not have been asked. Then there are the
XML-to-corba folks. There are also various weird spin-offs of XML
flying around. I can go on and on.

If all this doesn't smack of confusion, I'm missing something here. As
all this happens, the simple nature of the Web and the Web's
user-friendly character will be killed even before we see the tenth
anniversary of the first GUI browser, which was released around 1993.
It will be prettier when it works. But with increased complexity comes
increased inefficiency and lots of bugginess. A slow, buggy, complex,
daunting Web awaits. I'm not looking forward to it.

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