XML at SGML 96

This is a very brief summary report on XML activities at SGML 96 for
the benefit of WG members who were not able to attend.


A meeting of the W3C SGML WG was held on Sunday, November 17, the
evening before the conference.  The meeting gave those who attended a
chance to see each other in person and to exchange views on the
progress of the XML effort.  Printed copies of the XML 1.0 draft of
961114 were distributed, and two questions were put to the members

1. Should we proceed in two further phases as we have been saying we
would, or should we rather (a) proceed with both in parallel or (b)
switch the order to address stylesheets first and linking second?

Option (a) found little support in its strong form (that we create a
subgroup for each activity), but the discussion made clear that some
linking and some stylesheet functions would both have to be
demonstrable by the April WWW conference.  After thinking about (b)
for a while, it was generally accepted that linking is more critical
than stylesheets, so on paper at least, we are still saying that Phase
II is basically about linking (though "linking" here has to include
the ability to link to a stylesheet).

2. Bearing in mind that we need to limit WG participation to qualified
people, should we invite more participants?

Here the sentiment was clearly in favor of expanding the WG, but only
by invitation.  Current members of the WG can recommend persons known
to them to have SGML expertise for inclusion in the WG, but there will
be no general announcement or call for participants.  Recommendations
of persons to be considered for WG membership must be made to me
directly by existing WG members.


The XML 1.0 draft was officially presented to a standing-room-only
crowd during the second morning session of the technical track on
Tuesday, November 19.  Tommie Usdin chaired the session.  Tim Bray
eloquently presented the rationale for SGML simplification.  Jon Bosak
explained the organization of the WG and ERB and introduced the ERB
members to the audience (nine of the eleven ERB members were in
attendance on stage).  Michael Sperberg-McQueen led the audience
through the specification, noting which features of 8879 had been
retained or dropped and explaining the new XML concept of "well
formedness".  James Clark briefly described the implications of XML
for implementors.  Tim Bray returned to give his recommendations for
vendors, and Jon Bosak finished with recommendations for content

Questions following the presentations focused mainly on clarifications
of technical points, especially the concept of well-formedness, and
implicit requests for reassurance that we were not eliminating the
concept of validation.  The political backlash that some of us had
feared simply did not materialize.


Since the XML rollout occurred fairly early in the conference, there
were another two days to assess the impact of the announcement plus an
additional day of SGML Open vendor feedback.

While it is clear that not everyone in the SGML community is entirely
happy with the draft specification, the general response was
overwhelmingly positive.  As we had hoped, the majority of SGML
experts saw XML as a way to bring more people into the world of
structure and open standards, while the beginners welcomed a subset
that was obviously easier to learn than the full standard.  Vendors
were quick to see the marketing opportunities presented by XML, and
most were claiming some form of support before the conference was

One of the most gratifying and hopeful developments of the conference
was the willingness expressed by leaders of the SGML revision effort
to cooperate with us in further improving the XML specification by
working quickly to approve a Technical Corrigendum to 8879 that would
help us resolve some of the SGML compatibility issues that have given
us the most trouble in defining the specification.  This spirit of
cooperation will make it possible to productively revisit at least
three issues that have created the most unhappiness both in the WG and
the ERB -- overlapping attribute values, white space handling, and
ambiguous content models.

The warm reception accorded XML by the SGML community and the positive
participation of WG8 leadership in forming the best possible
specification make me very optimistic that we can produce an
attractive new technology in time for the WWW6 conference in April.