Boston, for those who weren't there
Sitting in the airport on the way home, it dawned on me that at least 20
of you weren't in Boston and deserve a report on the first fruits of our
During the OMUG (Omnimark Users' Group) meeting on Saturday, John McFadden,
Omnimark supremo, expressed grave public doubts about XML. I wasn't there
so I won't try to give you what he said at third-hand, but he certainly
did make all the attendees curious to find out what it was all about.
II. Sunday evening
The WG and some hangers-on and friends and relations met Sunday night
in a relaxed mood, basically to see each others' faces. Highlights were:
1. the availability of the standard; Jon Bosak brought 1200 copies, nicely
printed up in a dark turquoise cover. (The conference had about 1000
attendees, and with vendors and camp followers, the total population
was on the order of 1400). No draft XML specs were left over. Jon had
also done up a 4-page, thorough, light-hearted, "XML Q & A", which was also
generally available. I'm sure Jon could post a copy here.
2. lapel pins, red background with silver lettering saying "<?XML!>". There
were only a hundred, and they're basically gone now, so a future collectors'
3. discussion of the problems and advantages of strict 8879 conformance,
and how we could work with ISO to minimize those problems. Charles
Goldfarb and the rest of the WG8 people, who had already been in Boston for
a week-long meeting, were in 100% onside and we are completely unified
in our desire to have an XML that is clean, free of design blemishes, and
fully conformant. Skipping forward, by weeks' end WG8, through Charles,
had solicited the ERB to propose a draft technical corrigendum to see
if we can put to bed some of the thornier issues in this area. While ISO
is not (nor arguably should be) a fast-moving organization, the WG8 folks
will do what they can do to make this happen.
4. discussion about what we should discuss next. While no votes were
taken, there seems to be a surprisingly-strong sentiment for plowing
ahead with hyperlinks now and deferring the display-semantics issues
for a bit. Reasons: CSS is awfully hard to fight at the moment, since
both Netscape and Microsoft are working on it like mad, and potentially
very vulnerable in a few months time if the design fails under pressure,
as some of us suspect it will. Second, by stealing a few juicy
tidbits from HyTime, we can probably, by the Web conference in April,
probably show some hyperlink semantics that are way better than what
a naked URL can do, and at the same time avoid getting diverted down
the URI trail-of-tears.
All in all a successful evening. A downside - at some point early in
the week [Monday?] Gavin Nicol had his nice new Volvo totaled but
I gather walked away from it. I never saw him again; if anyone can
post reassuring us of Gavin's good health that would be welcome.
Charles, in his inventor's keynote, gave XML a nice plug. In
the poster room (lots of good posters) Michael Sperberg-McQueen
had done a nice big 3-panel XML poster; it was pretty well attended. I
will retain the memory of Pam Gennusa standing there saying "No DTD? That
makes me feel realy weird!" What with this, and the posters all over the
place, and the pins in evidence, there was a bit of an XML buzz... a lot
of people were nervous.
The <TAG> Show Daily led off with a brief piece from yours truly announcing
that XML would hit the streets and giving some URL's and so on.
Our session ran from 11:15 to 12:45, on the "expert" track. It was standing
room only, so I think that the luckless souls giving parallel sessions
may have been pretty thinly attended.
I led off addressing the question of "Why XML?" The highlight of my
speech was when I frisbeed the XML spec off the stage and it twirled
like a November leaf gently to earth, with nary a thud. Also I drew
attention to Jon's nearly miraculous deftness and energy in making XML
Jon was next, explaining the process; the coreof his talk was an attempt
to pre-answer the main question which was doubtless being asked but not
openly: what bunch of W3C turkeys are qualified to subset SGML? Jon focused
not on people, but on DocBook, WG8, the Open Text Index, the OED, SDL,
HyTime (Eliot's the co-editor), the TEI, Author/Editor, HoTMetaL, Adept,
Dynatext, Dynaweb, IBMIDDOC, groff, sgmls, nsgmls, jade, Grif, Mosaic. The
idea was that people should feel free to disagree with us, but that cheap
shots about experience or qualifications were out of order. The highlights
of Jon's speech were spontaneous applause for getting the draft out in 11
weeks, and for James' bio. Then Michael ran through the technical
differences between SGML and XML, leaning heavily on the great pains we'd
gone to for compatibility. James discussed the XML issues for implementors,
covering the cases of people with existing SGML implementations, and people
doing XML from scratch; he got a big laugh by out that a really
big gain in ease of implementation is that you don't have to come to an
understanding of the ISO standard. I and Jon closed, discussing the
implications of XML respectively for vendors and information providers.
We were able to announce that SoftQuad and Arbortext were doing an
interoperability demo using XML (forgiveably, version 0.003 of the spec I
think), that AIS had announced that Balise would implement XML (and they
support Unicode!), as would Stilo, who sell an SGML Editor.
(parenthetical note: Jean Paoli and Bill Smith took the opportunity to
wander gleefully about the show floor, pouncing on hapless and high-strung
exhibitor marketing executives and demanding XML demos).
After the speechmaking, we had a half-hour for questions, and they were
both friendly and excellent. Francois Chahuneau (his agenda only slightly
veiled) wanted a verification that SGML vendors would need to put in
Unicode support. Eric Severson wanted to know about our relationship with
WG8. Somebody (Pam Gennusa?) wanted to know about the dangers of living
without a DTD. Ludo Van Vooren pointed out that well-formed XML might be
*very* useful for those doing large scale SGML up-conversions; the problem
is not spotting the data items, but making the de facto structures fit the
DTD. So, just make 'em well-formed XML and leave the validation until
the editorial process comes around (if ever). Murray Altheim had a good
question, but I forget what it was.
The show daily was all XML, almost literally - there were a couple of
squibs on other subjects, but not much. The coverage was overwhelmingly
favorable. We had disposed of almost all the XML pins, and they were
gracing many well-known chests, including Charles Goldfarb's. XML
was showing up on a lot of slides in only-loosely-related presentations.
AIS was doing a printed XML press release - nice work.
The show daily had an editorial from Brian Travis, previously on record
as dubious about XML, saying that he would wear the pin with pride.
Michael touched briefly on XML in his (wonderful, as always) closing
address. But the real news was that the GCA announced that there would
be a workshop in March on the subject of "Selling SGML using XML and the
Web" - two days in San Diego - the first wholly nontechnical SGML
conference anywhere, as far as I know. Details to follow we hope.
That's about all. I'd say it went about as well as we could have hoped.
Our next job is figuring out what to do to make sure that XML makes the
right impression at the big Web conference at Santa Clara in April.
One parenthetical note - about half a dozen people separately said they
wished we'd put FPI's in. My standard answer was "James says it's too
hard," but there is clearly a desire for this on the SGML side of the
fence. Not only would it be hard, it would add substantially
to the spec. I'd favor heel-dragging on this, but now would be a
good time for pro-FPI manifestoes in the WG.
Everyone on the WG should reach around and pat themselves on the back.