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   Re: [xml-dev] What is XML's appropriate place in an office suite?

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AndrewWatt2000@aol.com wrote:
> It seems to me that this fundamental question hasn't been adequately 
> addressed in our recent discussions.
> As XML permeates more and more of the computing space it throws up questions 
> about where it belongs and how visible it should be. An approach that might 
> be appropriate for XML geeks, like the ... what shall I say? ... remarkable 
> bunch on this list may be totally useless or wholly inappropriate for the 
> apocryphal ordinary user of an office suite. It is likely that the ordinary 
> user is, quantitatively, also the most numerous class of user. So, any 
> sensible vendor will take the views of the ordinary user into account.

I agree that the interfaces required by a tool implementer are not necessarily
those that will be deployed for the benefit of the end user. 

However, the "apocryphal ordinary user," in my view, is one who by definition 
cannot or chooses not to think about information management problems. This 
user is interested mainly in continuing to do whatever they were doing in the 
days before. These people are going to be opinion *followers*, not opinion 
leaders, so the question above will at best lead to spurious conclusions. 

> In attempting an answer I would suggest that we would do well to remember the 
> applicability for many users of office suites of Champion's First Law of XML: 
> "XML is a meta language that can describe anything, and if you learn to think 
> at two or three levels of abstraction above what you've done all your career, 
> it is really useful." 
> In fact, for many non-programmer users of office suites there might be a need 
> to think at four, five or more levels of abstraction above their norm.

For corporate users at least, you are right about the complexity of the 
integration problem. This has been the case for as long as I can remember though:
in the 80's we deployed 4GL applications to insulate the users from SQL databases,
in the 90's we redeployed HTML/cgi/Server Pages/... to insulate the users, 
and now many vendor end-use applications are using XML motivated technologies 
to provide integration functions.

> <for_discussion>
> Re-examining some of the recent discussion it seems to me that some of the 
> pleas for fully open XML in office suites is simply thinly veiled special 
> pleading for the XML geek lobby. Making a fully open XML in an office suite 
> empowers not the user but the XML geek. So, in effect, the plea for fully 
> open XML is, in some respects at least, a selfish request. One might even 
> suggest that it would increase the power and revenue earning potential of XML 
> geeks (at the expense of the office suite vendors). Moving power or data 
> ownership from proprietary vendors to our own XML geekdom may be less 
> altruistic than it at first appears.
> </for_discussion>
> For those who doubt the above point, I suggest they go and canvas views of 
> users of office products in local businesses. How many actually want XML? How 
> many would know what to do with it if they are given XML on a plate?

The problems haven't changed. These same users are either (a) unable or 
unwilling to exploit *any* new integration features that take more than
1 minute to pick up or (b) need someone else to lead the way and set it 
up for them.
> So where does XML belong in an office suite

> As a first attempt at an answer, I would suggest "Well hidden from the 
> ordinary user".

I'd suggest that with any technology it just takes time for the masses 
to adopt enough terminology to begin assuming they want it. It is a 
generation gap; those who are not set in habits will simply grow into 
whatever they are exposed to.

> Here, it seems to me, that InfoPath potentially hits a sweet spot. It lets 
> users perform a useful business task using a visual metaphor which is broadly 
> familiar - a forms interface - while hiding the XML from the user who has no 
> interest in it, and at the same time making potentially reusable XML data 
> available to one or more backend processes.

I will only suggest that InfoPath will shift the balance a bit between 
power users and corporate tool integrators. The apocryphal office user
may well be horrified to face InfoPath, just as the average office manager
is perplexed when told they have full access to several hundred corporate
database tables, but isn't trained on what any of them mean. 

- Mitch

> Andrew Watt
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