January 03, 2002, 12:00 AM — XML 2001 was held last week at Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, Florida.
Meeting up with old acquaintances and put some faces to e-mail
addresses I have long corresponded with on XML developer lists -- most
notably xml-dev -- was great. It was a total roller coaster ride. A
roller coaster ride for the mind, that is, as I did not even get near
the theme parks, but all the twists and turns going on in my head left
a real-enough feeling of nausea.
Formulating ones thoughts after an XML conference always takes time.
XML conference attendees are such an eclectic bunch of techies,
philanthropists, monopolists, nuclear physicists, lawyers, and
musicians that the clashing worldviews invariably generate an exciting
cauldron to swim in for a week.
Having done my fair share of swimming and emerging from the far side in
one piece, I think my abiding memory of XML 2001 will be as the
conference at which the data-heads and the doc-heads finally agreed to
call it quits and go their separate ways. Sad but true. Speaking as a
doc-head, I am hopelessly incapable of presenting both sides of the
argument but here is how I see it.
The data people are steeped in two related technologies: Object-
oriented programming and relational databases. Both the OO and RDB
users see uses for XML as an information interchange and on-the-wire
format. They talk of data binding, object serializations, and third
normal forms. An entire family of tools is coming into existence to
facilitate this view of XML.
The document people are a bit bemused by the goings on of the data
people. Relational databases are very good for manipulating data that
fits the relational model. Object serializations are good ways to
persist objects. Adding pointy brackets is merely a point increment
improvement over CSV (comma separated values) or, say, s-expression-
based serialization notation. Data people clamor for XML tools and the
doc heads think, "Gee. What's wrong with ODBC, JDBC, Visual Basic,
JetForms, MySQL, etc."
The document people have the same problems as always: Editing tools are
dogs when it comes to mixed content and attributes; rendering tools
fall far short of what we need to even approximate decent Web
presentation and/or paper typography. The ethos of separating content
from presentation breaks down at the old chestnuts called tables,
equations, and graphics -- just as it always has.
Document people see the world in terms of XML encoded information
flowing through systems, perhaps undergoing transformations and
validations at various stages along the way. Data people see rigid XML
structures flowing over the wire between well-defined end-points that
encode all the really interesting stuff in "business logic" at the end-
The data people point out that, with a little effort, everything can be
reduced to chucks of stuff that can be molded into a relational
worldview. They are right.