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   Costs, benefits, and emperors with wardrobe malfunctions - was Re: [xml-

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On Apr 4, 2004, at 3:37 PM, Elliotte Rusty Harold wrote:

> At 6:48 AM -0700 4/4/04, Rex Brooks wrote:
>> Lastly, who wants to cast the vote the prevents allowing the only  
>> viable, public standard completely uncoupled from partisan politics,  
>> that stands a chance of saving a single life in a time when another  
>> incident such as 9/11 or 3/11 could happen at any time, especially if  
>> that public standard, because it IS public, CAN be amended to do its  
>> job better?
> The only reasonable way to judge a standard like this is to tally up  
> the advantages *AND DISADVANTAGES* and see if the advantages outweigh  
> the disadvantages. Sometimes it's a judgement call which different,  
> rational people may come to different conclusions about.

I agree, except that it's almost ALWAYS a judgment call.  XML 1.1 is a  
very good example -- sensible people can disagree on the costs and  
benefits, especially since the costs are now and the benefits are  
sometime in the future, maybe.  Furthermore, some of the costs and  
benefits are intangible; I, for example, generally think XMl 1.1 is a  
good idea simply because it has a cleaner alignment with Unicode and  
fixes an outright bug in XML 1.0 (the infamous NEL character, which is  
clearly a line terminator in Unicode). XML can't be "Unicode with angle  
brackets" but then pick which bits of Unicode it finds convenient to  
actually align with without losing a bit of conceptual integrity.   
(This is not to restart that permathread, just to illustrate problem of  
comparing the tangible costs of incompatibility vs the intangible  
benefits of improved conceptual integrity.)

As far as I can tell, it's the realization that widespread consensus on  
the cost-benefit tradeoff for a given proposal is more or less  
impossible under the W3C rules that drove a small group of powerful  
companies to invent the WS-Emperor spec development process.  They got  
the "important" players in a room (or email list) and hashed out the  
basic architecture. I presume, but have no evidence, that lots of  
horses were traded to come up with something that was mutually  
acceptable.  THEN, they bring in a widening circle of companies to  
review the specs (I have the image of a troop of monkeys picking bugs  
out of the gorillas' fur), and FINALLY send it to OASIS.  This is  
actually an interesting experiment -- they know that doing the whole  
thing in an open way leads to 5-year-and-counting efforts such as  
XQuery/XSLT 2, but they know that having IBM, BEA, and MS all go off  
and invent similar but incompatible specs will kill the network effect  
that keeps all the balls (bubbles?) in the air.  They're trying to get  
the advantages of some openness without the paralysis that all those  
conflicting judgments based on very different experiences and values  
tends to produce.

Watching the media events where  the emperor is being draped in  
imaginary standards and having the glitches be called the equivalent of  
wardrobe malfunctions rather than public nudity does get a little  
tiresome, I agree.     I believe Don Box said it clearly the other day:  
  "For those of us who work on the WS-* protocols at MSFT, we look at  
this exercise as defining the public "API" to our next generation of  
14Z  There's a word for this I just tracked down -- mokita   
http://www.randomhouse.com/wotd/index.pperl?date=19991220  "the truth  
that everyone knows but no one talks about".

Anyway, there seems to be a lot of mokita surrounding this topic.  I  
have never seen or heard of a viable, "public standard completely  
uncoupled from partisan politics"; the mokita is that politics is  
pervasive in the 'standards' world.  Likewise, it's time to face up to  
the fact that most of the WS-* specs are not 'standards'; the mokita is  
that it is they are treaties between competitors that may or may not  
actually work, and may or may not be a viable basis for standards in  
the long run.  I advocate a open mind, but healthy skepticism about all  
of them; we need to consider the short run costs and benefits of  
adopting any one spec, and we need to consider the necessity of  
evolving the whole mess into something coherent, or allowing it to die  
if the experiment turns out to be a failure.


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