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   Re: [xml-dev] The XML Backlash

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On Fri, 3 Dec 2004 10:34:39 -0600, Bullard, Claude L (Len)
<len.bullard@intergraph.com> wrote:
> Are we at the emergence point of an XML backlash?

I've been expecting such a backlash for about 5 years now.  The
namespaces discussion on various threads reminded me of a  rant I
indulged in when I first began to think that the complexity and
inconsistency in the XML corpus was hopeless 
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/sml-dev/message/59  ).   [the
reference is to a DOM WG meeting during the Level 2 days]

"6 -- count 'em -- SIX hours of discussion on how to resolve the mess that
is created when parsed entities meet namespaces. And they probably took
another six hours off my life because of the chocolate consumed to fight the
depression and caffeine consumed to fight the urge to sleep. And we ended
up deciding to essentially put up a sign saying "There Be Dragons There"
because the problems are too complex to solve without mandating a lot
of machinery that would serve little purpose but to present a pretty
face on a very, very ugly mess."

BUT 5 years later, XML still marches on -- it's OFF the Gartner hype
cycle because it is so widely accepted. 
http://www4.gartner.com/DisplayDocument?doc_cd=120920  The peasants
haven't rebelled, and I don't see many signs that they are about to.

The complaints in the various postings Len forwarded are not exactly
new, and are mainly from the equivalent of bohemian intellectuals, not
the oppressed peasantry :-)   Many are already enshrined as xml-dev
permathreads.  The "LISP could do everything XML does 30 years ago"
argument is not new either.  It is beside the point, however:  for
whatever reason, XML has become establisned as a ubiquitous standard
and has got the network effect working in its favor, the other
possibilities such as LISP and ASN.1 never did. Maybe we would have
been better off if they had, but we'll never know.

So  will the backlash ever  begin?  I'm of two minds, as usual:

On one hand, maybe never -- sensible people can avoid most of the
nasty problems by just sticking to a simple, sane, subset of XML and
the other specs.  It's only the corners that have the ugly messes in
them, and there
are plenty of Here Be Dragons signs up that anyone who reads mailing
lists such as this know about, and others learn about the hard way. 
Maybe in the long run the W3C or somebody will bless the sane/common
subset and the corner cases will fade from memory.

On the other hand, maybe   it's already underway.  The web services
people just quietly banished DTDs (and with them all the
entity-related dragons) from the kingdom, and nobody but a few purists
seriously complained.  Likewise, the wireless people are quietly
working on binary XML-like formats and may standardize on them with or
without the W3C's imprimatur.  Given the relative growth rates of
mobile and desktop devices, it's a safe bet that the server-side folks
will support any  wireless industry XML-like standards if they get
momentum, again with or without the W3C. It is at least plausible that
these kinds of efforts will lead us to the point where SGML was in
1996, and a collaborative, sanctioned effort to create something new
out of the lessons of XML will get traction.

 I wonder if there are analogous cases in the history of technolgy
(ahem, besides SGML?) where a set of good ideas got out of control. 
If so, what happened? Did people just learn to ignore the cruft and
stick with what worked without worrying about it?   Did the mess get
refactored back into the good ideas plus whatever was learned on the
way ? Did the whole thing -- wheat, chaff, babies, bathwater -- get
replaced by something else?

A few possibilities to chew on:  

Computer languages -- clearly new ones replace older ones, stealing
whatever good ideas they offered  (although of course the old ones
live on ... I *know* how much COBOL there is out there!).   Clearly
this falls into the "baby and bathwater both get chucked out"

The Intel computer architecture.  It looked pretty hideous the last I
even tried to deal with assembly level programming in the late '80s
... did that horrible 16-bit segmented addressing mode stuff get
factored out, hidden away, quietly ignored, or what? My guess is that
this falls into the "mess gets gradually refactored" category. ???

Windows APIs --  This might be a particularly good historical example
to learn from ... Obviously the early versions had serious
limitations, but it was not economically feasible to simply kill them
off and move on.  As I understand it there's an ongoing struggle
between the need not to break existing applications and to move
forward in a better direction.  I'm not sure what the lesson for XML
is, other than "whatever you do will make SOME substantial group of
people VERY mad".     I guess Windows exhibits all three categories: 
Users learn to avoid the dragons, some parts of MS work on refactoring
things without breaking too many legacy apps, and some parts of MS
proceed forward with new APIs that don't attempt to maintain
compatibility ???

Anyway, there doesn't seem to be a clear pattern ... but the one thing
that XML lacks that the Intel and Windows examples had was somebody
taking the lead on the refactoring.  The sense I get from most
discussions with XML geeks is  "we're stuck with the whole thing ; we
can't ever do anything that will break ANYBODY" rather than "we have
to map out a migration path that gets us to a better place with the
least disruption."    I much prefer the latter.  Some early adopters
will suffer if the bits of XML that turned out to be bad ideas are
factored out, but in the long run we will all be  better off.  The
alternative isn't the XML status quo, it's fighting the backlash and

Usual disclaimer -- my opinion, not any past or future employer's.

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