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XML-L  August 2002

XML-L August 2002

Subject:

Re: New to XML: I just don't GET it

From:

"G. Ken Holman" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

General discussion of Extensible Markup Language <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 3 Aug 2002 17:36:23 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

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text/plain (182 lines)

At 2002-08-03 15:46 -0400, Sean Andrews wrote:
>I am brand new to XML.

Welcome!

>I have been a web designer for 7 years, and a
>webmaster at a pharmaceutical corporation for over 2 years. I am an expert
>at XHTML 1.0, ASP, and am very good with Javascript and VBScript.

Impressive!

>I am
>trying to learn XML because I know it will be important in the future of web
>design.

For some people ... perhaps not you.  XML isn't a panacea.

>But you know what, I just don't GET it.

We are here to help.

>I understand WHAT XML does,

Yes, you seem to have captured the big issues, but not the ramifications.

>I just don't understand WHY. So far, it seems
>like a very impractical language to me. It seems like it does only two
>things, and both of things are useless to me:

Then you don't need XML!

>1) It allows you to create your own tags.

Precisely!  For those who do a lot of text processing, having a universal
format for the representation of hierarchical structure provides for
vendor-, application-, and platform-independence in tools and in data.

>This is useless to me because I
>don't need to create my own tags. I get along just fine with XHTML.

Then stick with it!  Why change?

>And if
>the tag I want doesn't exist in XHTML, I use CSS to help me. Why go to all
>the extra effort of getting un-used to HTML tags? If it ain't broke, don't
>fix it.

Correct ... if your use of text processing isn't broken, then you don't
need XML in any way.

BUT ... for *my* text processing ... I want to do far more than just paint
browser screens.  I develop XML training material, and I've authored all of
it in my own vocabulary of elements and attributes, all tuned to the
semantics of what training material represents and how it is structured.

If I authored my training material in HTML, then all I could do with it
would be paint browser screens ... but I need paper handouts, so I use
XSL-FO and the end result is paginated with automatically generated
cross-references and tables of content.

To make some pocket change I sell my XSLT and XSL-FO books as PDF files
from my web site ... each book has 11 renditions, five of which are in
US-letter-sized paper and five of which are in A4-sized paper (not enough
people in North America realize the international market prefers paper
sized differently).

For the visually disabled I have the 11th rendition in monospaced screen
presentation suitable for screen readers, making the job of reading the
book far easier than trying to read a proportionally spaced and laid out
publication.

>2) All of the tutorials I have read center around using XML to store data in
>a separate file and then call it into an HTML file.

Precisely!  When I do my instructor-led teaching, I have an HTML/CSS
rendition of my training material created by XSLT, creating hundreds of
individual files from one set of XML.

>Well, that's taking a
>few steps BACKWARD in practicality. I already use ASP and a database to put
>data online, and that method has far exceeded my expectations.

Congratulations!

>Why on earth
>would I want to put data in a TEXT file?

Sounds like *you* don't need to.

>A database is so much more stable
>for storing data than a text file would be, especially when you have many
>records.

Exactly!  When you have records and when you tables, databases are
*ideally* suited for the storage of such information, and I counsel people
to use the best technology for the information they have, and if it is
tabular, databases are the long-time proven way to go.

But ... I'm not storing data!  I'm not authoring tables!  I don't have records!

I have text information, and XML is the best way to store text for
processing on the web.  It is derived from SGML and SGML has long been the
choice for professional text processing.  After all, your beloved HTML is
an application of SGML because you are taking your data and using text to
display that data on web screens.

>And it's easier to scroll through the data in a database than the
>data that is surrounded by XML tags in a text file.

Amen!

>I just don't understand WHY I should feel I have to learn XML when I can
>already do what it does much better with the tools I already have and the
>languages I already know.

Sounds like you don't have to learn XML with the expectations you have today.

>XML is does not seem like a progression; it seems
>like a regression. And no reference source I have examined has been able to
>answer my questions. This is why I have turned to this mailing list for
>help.

I'm hoping you are finding these comments helpful.

>Can somebody please tell me if there is something I am missing? Is there
>more to XML than just this? If not, is there some reason why people believe
>XML is a better way to go than ASP/database?

Such a wide open question is difficult to answer and any answer is open to
being shot down.  Why not ask "is there some reason why people believe XML
is a better way to go than ASP/database for .......(fill in the
blank)....." and I think you will get defensible and useful answers.

Let me ask you this, though ... when it comes time to take your data out of
the database tables and, on the fly, produce a PDF file according to
algorithmic calculations on the feedback from a user's web form ... how are
you going to do it?

If you choose a particular vendor's proprietary solution to solve this text
problem, what happens when your platform changes?

XSL-FO delivers the promise of platform independence to create formatted
paginated results from structured information.

XSLT delivers the promise of platform independence for the transformation
of structured information from one vocabulary to another.

XML delivers the promise of maintaining information in a hierarchical
structure using meaningful labels that identify the information
unambiguously so that I can author and maintain my information
independently of any way it is ultimately going to be used, presented,
printed, or to which of many possibly changing audiences who are going to
want different subsets of the information.

Could I do that with XHTML?  No way!  I'm stuck with a single
presentation.  It embodies early-binding thereby taking away the
flexibility that late-binding of information delivers.

Perhaps when your personal requirements change, you will have more of a
need to explore this technology.  There is no use shoehorning something
that doesn't fit just because it is a current technology if you don't have
any new requirements that need to be addressed.

I hope this helps.

.......................... Ken


--
Upcoming hands-on in-depth 3-days XSLT/XPath and/or 2-days XSL-FO:
-                               North America:  Sep 30-Oct  4,2002
-                               Japan:          Oct  7-Oct 11,2002

G. Ken Holman                 mailto:[log in to unmask]
Crane Softwrights Ltd.          http://www.CraneSoftwrights.com/l/
Box 266, Kars, Ontario CANADA K0A-2E0  +1(613)489-0999 (Fax:-0995)
ISBN 0-13-065196-6                       Definitive XSLT and XPath
ISBN 1-894049-08-X   Practical Transformation Using XSLT and XPath
ISBN 1-894049-07-1                Practical Formatting Using XSLFO
XSL/XML/DSSSL/SGML/OmniMark services, books (electronic, printed),
articles, training (instructor-live,Internet-live,web/CD,licensed)
Next public training:           2002-08-05,26,27,09-30,10-03,07,10

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