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HTML/XML: the schism?



My colleague Todd Freter made this very quick translation of the Le
Monde Informatique article for in-house consumption.  He has consented
to let me post it to the group on condition that he will be forgiven
for any errors arising from his haste.

Jon

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Le Monde Informatique      No. 714 - March 21, 1997

SPRING INTERNET WORLD
HTML/XML: the schism?

This begins like any ordinary story.  At the Spring Internet World
event, Microsoft proposes CDF, a protocol for standardizing the "push
model," which is overtaking the Net.  Guess what: behind this protocol
another one is hidden, XML, a new Web page description
language. Microsoft supports it, while Netscape prefers to pretend it
isn't there. To all appearances this looks like a familiar story,
almost predictable.  But only in appearance. At the Spring Internet
World exhibition in Los Angeles, the notion of broadcasting is
bubbling up everywhere, already called Webcast or Netcast, new terms
that both refer to the same paradigm, namely, automatic distribution
of content on the Internet. More than thirty companies are competing
for this already narrow market called "Web-diffusion." But with a
clearly identified stake: to be able to offer large, well
characterized audiences to broadcasters. Even if, technically
speaking, the Broadcast solutions are hardly innovative, they differ
among themselves.  In short, there is a movement to contain and to
bring standardization to this energy. Only an organizer is missing.

The XML trump cards

Initiated by major forces in the SGML community, XML (see Le Monde
Informatique No. 711), when compared to HTML, offers significant
possibilities for expressing structure. An XML document can, notably,
define its own grammar, which is to say, its own internal hierarchy
(hence the "eXtensible" in XML).  As it interprets the hierarchy, an
application or intelligent agent can extract from the document a view
that corresponds to a user profile. These are useful capabilities not
only an intranet collection of documents but also for Web
broadcasting. That's why CDF, Microsoft's proposal for standardizing
broadcasts, is nothing more than an XML application. XML defines,
among other things, the structure for broadcasting channel, its
keywords, its instantiation cycles, and so forth.

Missing Netscape

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft nobly assumes the role and announces,
using this exhibition and relying on the support of thirty companies,
CDF (Channel Data Format). In other words, a protocol proposed by
the Seattle firm to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in order to
standardize information broadcasting on the Web. It was a well mastered
move. Microsoft, as usual, benefits from the general disorder and from
a strong obsession for a technology to slide its solution into place.
That solution, in the present instance, will be integrated into the next
version of Internet Explorer. The story could end here with a classic
ending. But a glance at the CDF specification reveals that the protocol
relies on XML and not HTML, the Web page description language. In fact,
Microsoft barely mentioned this feature in its announcement ...

XML (eXtensible Markup Language) is, in comparison to HTML, a page
description language adapted to the Web. A working group of the W3C
happens to be working on its specification. Here is proof that HTML
is no longer viewed as the only possible language for describing
documents on the Web. Several companies seem to have fastened onto
XML very quickly: Microsoft, of course, who plans to integrate XML
into Internet Explorer. But also SoftQuad, NCSA, Hewlett-Packard and even
Sun. In return, Netscape is absent at roll call. Even more surprising,
the people in charge at the Mountain View company flout their lack of
concern about XML. "If it's a question of providing better structure
in documents, you can just as well enhance HTML," states Mike McCue,
in charge of advanced technologies. Marc Andreessen, vice president of
Netscape, puts forward the same argument. Are they really planning
at Netscape on ignoring XML just for the sake of HTML? Or are they
bluffing in order to buy time for a proper response? One thing is
certain: a major construction site has opened up on the Web standards
landscape and, for the first time, Netscape is not participating.

(Article by CYRIL DHÉNIN)


MARC ANDREESSEN, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT OF TECHNOLOGY FOR NETSCAPE

"I don't see much interest in CDF"

Le Monde Informatique: One of the great stars of Spring Internet World
was Webcasting. And Microsoft has just submitted to the W3C a proposed
standard= , CDF (Channel Data Format). Will you adopt it if the W3C
ratifies it?

Marc Andreessen: Frankly, I don't see much interest in CDF. Webcasting
is complementary to the Web; it doesn't replace it, but it augments
it.  So much so that Webcasting can be implemented with the same Web
protocols.  That is, by using HTML, HTTP, Java or electronic
mail. It's not necessary to invent a new protocol ...

LMI: Among the protocols that are actually discussed inside the W3C
you find XML, a document description language supported by Microsoft,
among others. Why isn't Netscape participating in these efforts?

MA: "XML"? That sounds really proprietary, doesn't it? [Grin] Don't
forget that the Internet standard is a protocol that has brought forth
a consensus at the heart of institutions like the W3C, the IETF and
even ECMA [?], which is working on JavaScript. The rest is just a
proposal ...

LMI: Java represents one the great technological options for Netscape.
However, in terms of performance, the language still seems limited
since it's a question of running applications and not only
applets. Will the solution to the performance problems come from
software or hardware?

MA: I think that we need two or three more years of work before the
software environment offers a satisfactory platform for large
applications written entirely in Java. Between now and then, an entire
range of computers supplied with Java chips are going to show up in
the marketplace. They will enable a new performance standard.

LMI: At the exhibition, Netscape featured the extranet at the heart of
its presentation. Can you explain what this expression covers?

MA: An extranet is about an enterprise extending its intranet not only
to its customers but also to its suppliers. In order to develop
services for the former and, for example, to reduce delays for the
latter. The extranet is thus the logical extension of the
intranet. Since enterprises build their networks based on Internet
standards, their interconnection is no longer a problem.

(Observations collected by CYRIL DHÉNIN)

-Todd Freter, trans.