Intro to XML, sort of

This week at work, one of the high-powered guys from Adobe came and gave an introduction to XML ("and a little about PDF"). Tacking on that second part was amusing, but I didn't stay for it, as it was over the hour I'd allotted. I did note that Adobe is peculiarly print oriented. In the dissection of "formatter" and "renderer" the end product was always "bit map." I kept thinking, what about audio output for blind people?

I have no idea what the web is like for people who can't see, or read. I think it matters (which is why I try to support any browser), but I don't know how much of what I do would be interesting. I'm more text-based than many, but the pictures matter to me, too, and they take more work, generally. But I digress.

One of the things he pointed out was that XML is not a markup language. It's a framework for making markup languages. And guess what? There are a lot of markup languages that fall under the XML banner. He illustrated his introduction with an ML he made up for the occasion.

It's going to take a while for technofolks at large to "get" this. (I overlooked it, even though I sorta knew what XML was.) And that great monitor of the mainstream, USA Today offers a bit of helpful confusion to the issue.

"XML is a set of programming standards." Yup.

"XML is a way to stick little software-coded labels on stuff." That's a good analogy, too.

"...information on Web pages and in computer software and databases can't easily be exchanged among each other...." Well, it depends on a lot of things. It's probably not more true now than it has been in the past, but there's more information, and more people getting after it.

"If a standard version of XML were adopted across the industry..." That's a non-sequitur. (What "industry," for one thing?) We have an XML standard, but if there were just one XML, it wouldn't be eXtensible, now would it? The upside and downside are both right there.

"So what's happened is that there are, oh, 500 or so different versions of the XML standard evolving, which kind of defeats the purpose...." Nope, losing touch with reality, here. One XML standard, many markup languages. "The purpose" is served by extensibility. Microsoft taking over XML is about as likely as the boogie man coming to get you from out of the dust bunnies under your bed.

The fact that Microsofties couldn't get Outlook and Expedia working together (or that they couldn't get HTML right with their Office suite) has less to do with XML than the reality of general purpose computing and the expanding interconnections that have to be made.

The hard work of communication still has to be done. XML is not a magic wand, sorry.

Sept. 15, 2000

Clay Shirkey was writing about the same thing in Business 2.0 under the same dateline. He said "no magic problem solver" rather than no magic wand. :-) I like his succinct definition:

"...XML is not a format, it is a way of making formats, a set of rules for making sets of rules."

Oct. 2, 2000

In a later subsequent discussion, someone asked to see a live XML application. I pointed him to Userland as a place where lots of stuff is happening with XML. Trouble is, the nature of XML is "behind the scenes." Here's something of Userland's that's closer to the surface:'s Weblog Monitor. The .xml files are more or less human-readable, but Netscape's v4 browsers don't want to show them to you, while MSIE will.

Oct. 6, 2000

Dvorak thinks XML will kill the web. Might be a little overstated.

Oct. 14, 2000

Had a look at a slightly older technology for rendering text to a mass audience today.

Nov. 3, 2000

Edd Dumbill's XML Protocol Technology Reference gives a quick rundown of the big hitters in XML space.

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

Wednesday, 29-Nov-2000 23:33:48 MST