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   Re: Introduction and a few questions

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  • From: Peter Murray-Rust <peter@ursus.demon.co.uk>
  • To: xml-dev@xml.org
  • Date: Tue, 27 Jun 2000 19:02:42 +0100

At 04:22 PM 6/26/00 -0700, Aaron Hokanson wrote:
>Hello all,
>I have just recently subscribed to the XML-dev list, and had a few
>admittedly naive - yet important - questions. I am a professional web
>developer, and am very interested in XML. I understand the theory and am
>familiar with XML's history (the fact that it is a meta-language and that
>it, in a way, strikes a compromise between SGML and HTML, for instance).
>One thing I am perplexed by is the seemingly sparse support for this new
>language in the browsers, more specifically Netscape Navigator and Internet
>Explorer. As this is my primary focus, I am most interested in this issue.
>What I am trying to say is, is it possible to actually start creating XML
>documents which can be used by the majority of the viewers on the web today?
>If not, when can the world expect to start downloading and interacting with
>XML-based resources?

Thanks very much for raising this question - we have had it before in
XML-DEV but as always the context keeps changing.

Many of the people who started XML saw its primary purpose as "simple SGML
over the wire". It was for transmitting documents more complex than HTML
could manage in a safe, robust, platform/OS-independent manner. The idea
was to encourage the development of markup languages to be used over the web. 

As you - and others - note, much XML does not go over the public web and it
may not even escape from the insides of machines and code. This is fine - I
do this myself - but like you I have been very disappointed by the support
of browser manufacturers for XML over-the-wire.

My own interest is in the transmission of complex information in technical
subjects, especially chemistry, but also maths, graphics, tables, data,
etc. These only start to be useful when there is not only browser support
for reading/rendering/behaviour, but also browser-like contexts for
editing. The rush to middleware, etc. has perhaps taken the emphasis off
creating browsers which are capable of processing XML.

I wrote the first XML browser, and discontinued work on it when MS came out
with IE5. They did a good job at the time, because there was no other way
of displaying XML in a browser. However the XML and XSL(T) support was
partial and non-standard. MS have said they intend to have completely
standard implementations.

There *are* XML languages which are designed to be sent over the wire, most
obviously MathML, SVG and SMIL from the W3C, and others from non-W3C
authors. If, like me (with Chemical Markup Language), you want to do this
you will find you get little useful support from the browser manufacturers.
You cannot run proper XSLT to transform, and you have a choice of
(non-standard) Java/ECMAScript or Java applets. Plugins have been developed
for MathML and SVG (and they are nice), but it isn't clear that they are a
standard way forward.

Therefore we need more people shouting for support in browsers for
XML-over-the-wire. HTML cannot do everything. Until we get better, more
standard, interfaces we will be forced to kludge and glue. This was not the
vision of the XML pioneers.

>As a developer, is it possible for me to start putting XML towards practical
>use? Is it too early? One thing I do not want is to be caught with my pants
>down. Should I be panicking if I cannot produce a web site based on XML as
>of yet?

It's very difficult. I do all my websites in 100%-XML. This makes them
maintainable so that internal links don't break, the material is re-usable,
entities are normalised etc. However I transform to (X)HTML for delivery,
expect for those demo bits - SVG, CML, etc. I would love to be able to
serve the site in XML - but I don't think I can rely on it. But, if you use
XML even in this way you will benefit from the re-usability.

NB. If you haven't seen SVG it's sensational. You can download a plugin
from Adobe among others. I have said before that I think it's the killer
app for XML OTW - but others disagree. I'd be interested to know its takeup.


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