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   Re: SAX, OASIS, &c.

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  • From: Peter Murray-Rust <peter@ursus.demon.co.uk>
  • To: Jon Bosak <bosak@boethius.eng.sun.com>, xml-dev@xml.org
  • Date: Fri, 25 Feb 2000 11:39:57 +0000

At 09:14 AM 2/22/00 -0800, Jon Bosak wrote:
>I see from xmlhack that I've become embroiled in a debate taking
>place in a list that I don't s*bscribe to.  Oops.
>I hope that everyone will simply allow me to start over here.

Many thanks, Jon, for taking the time to write at length. XML-DEV is at a
very exciting and critical phase and your views are respected by many,
including myself. They will help us to define what we can and what we
cannot do.

>Some questions have arisen over my comments about democracy.  My
>definition of democracy is taken from the Oxford English
>   1. Government by the people; that form of government in which
>      the sovereign power resides in the people as a whole, and is
>      exercised either directly by them (as in the small republics
>      of antiquity) or by officers elected by them.
>"Exercised directly" means today exactly what it meant "in the
>small republics of antiquity": it means voting.  "Elected" means
>voting, too.  But some people define democracy as in the next
>sentence from the same dictionary:
>      In mod. use often more vaguely denoting a social state in
>      which all have equal rights, without hereditary or arbitrary
>      differences of rank or privilege.
>I mean democracy in the technical sense of the first part of the
>definition, not in the loose sense of the second.  Properly
>speaking, the process by which SAX is being designed is not
>democratic, because its only way to resolve differences of opinion
>is through the personal decision of an unelected individual.  The
>fact that the individual in question happens to be doing a
>near-perfect job seems to make people oblivious to the problem of
>how this is all supposed to work over the long run.

This is very useful. I think that XML-DEV is - rightly - working out what
democracy can mean. In terms of XML-DEV I use the word meritocratic. In
terms of real-life I suspect that Jon's first definition is more likely to
be effective.

>I can testify that you do not want to be using an unstructured
>process like the one that's been working so far in this list when

>it reaches the point where big chunks of people's code get written
>in slightly different ways according to slightly different models
>of the next release or variant interpretations of the current one,
>and you have to use the list to decide whose early implementation
>decisions will end up instantiated in the spec and whose ten
>thousand person-hours of effort will end up in the trash can.
>Without a democratic process for the orderly resolution of
>competing interests, this becomes (to use a phrase Len Bullard
>taught me) nothing but a knife fight.  And pretty soon it attracts
>the participation of well-funded people who *like* knife fights.
>This is what happens when large sums of money are involved.  I'm
>sorry, but that's how it is.

I agree with this. There are people whose sole motivation is to destroy
consensus. I fear this for CML - company X could *deliberately* put out a
non-compliant CML implementation. As a part-time temporary academic I
cannot personally afford to buy and support a worldwide trademark for CML,
so I need real-life organisations. [It is perfectly possible for an
organisation to trademark SAX and prevent this community using it - or at
least fighting them.]

>I believe that David is far too sane to stay in his current role
>with SAX for the rest of his life.  At some point he's going to
>put the responsibility for sorting out future knife fights
>somewhere else.  Whether that responsibility ends up with us, or
>with a vendor-run consortium, or with the leading implementor
>appears to be up to us to decide.  If we want it to end up with
>us, then we have to put in place genuine, heavy-duty,
>industrial-strength decision processes that can resolve real
>differences between real competitors and are guaranteed to stay
>open to the participation of all interested parties even when
>working under full load.  It doesn't have to be done right this
>minute, but it has to be done at some point if we want to remain
>relevant to the direction of this technology over the long run
>rather than turning over responsibility to the vendors.
I agree with this analysis. I have seen a widely used open-source program
seriously compromised by commercial interests - it got into the editorial
in Nature Biotechnology. The result is messy and the individual concerned
came out very badly.

*** Please don't take any of this as changing my views on what XML-DEV is
and should evolve into. *** It just seems to me inevitable that at some
stage our fruits are deliberately or by default handed on elsewhere. I
don't think there is a point in setting up "xml-dev.org" - any case that
has apparently been taken [who knows why and what for - did anyone ask any
of us?]

>The world won't end if we don't accomplish this and if future
>versions of SAX and other XML standards come to be defined by
>vendor consortia or in proprietary back rooms.  But we certainly
>won't be left with any warrant to complain about this outcome if
>we fail to provide a legal, democratic alternative.



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