April 12, 1999 -- Newsletter #23

By Joe Burns


Desktop-as-a-Service Designed for Any Cloud ? Nutanix Frame

April 12, 1999 -- Newsletter #23
Please visit http://www.htmlgoodies.com

Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors...

Not to gloat, but your old buddy Joe was pretty close to being on the mark about this Melissa thing. It turned out to be Dave Smith from Trenton, New Jersey. I said the virus was named after a woman... it was. I also said the creator of the virus did it just to see if he could... he did. I'm sure in some circles, he's a hero. If nothing else he succeeded in making virus companies a whole bunch of money.

Did you hear... the inventor of the WWW, Tim Berners-Lee (believe it or not, it isn't Al Gore), is upset at what has been done with his creation? He's specifically upset about people changing URLs and not updating pages so that 404 errors are rampant, and the "poor methods" (his words) used by search engines. Berners-Lee claims that we are only halfway through the creation of the Net but that "[the] Web is still too complex, too inefficient, and not private enough."

Now onto the topic for this week...

Can you get a read on this XML (Extensible Markup Language) thing? I'm having a heck of a time. Do we like it or don't we?

One day it looks like we're all ready to call it friend, and the next I can't find anyone who will acknowledge it exists. It seems now like we're in the "friend" wave.

Sun Microsystems has said they will create a platform so that XML can be incorporated into their Java language. They want to allow developers to combine the two languages to make better applications.

IBM has proclaimed they will now offer something called SpeechML, which is based on XML, in order to allow users to speak to their computers. I speak to mine all the time: I'm usually yelling.

But there's also the downside...

Jason Meserve, a staff writer for Network World, seemed to have it right on the button when he wrote that XML will never hit the mainstream unless the Internet search engines start playing with it (Cnn.com 3/19/99). He's right. What's the point of learning this new language when you get the exact same results as HTML yet lose hits because the search engines fail to recognize what you've written as text or code?

AltaVista has already said they will not use XML, but Lycos and Excite claim they're looking into it. Yahoo! didn't come up. My guess is that they won't be playing XML ball, as their search engine doesn't really require it.

XML programmer tools are coming out, Netscape seems ready to put XML in some business tools, and the average Joe seems to have heard of XML. So, this can't help but succeed, right?

I don't know. This looks like a "pushed" technology to me. Remember when "push" and "pull" were the Web buzz-words a year ago? You could either push or pull information. When students asked me what the difference between the terms was I answered that "pushed" information was stuff you didn't want.

Will XML hit it big or remain at the VRML level, a nice programming language that you only know if you're really into the Web.

If it does hit, it'll have to hit with those who program for a living. Those are the people who will see XML's inherent value to page creation. HTML simply allows you to mark up; XML allows you to create the items that mark things up. I've played with it. It's neat. It's extremely versatile and fun, but its usefulness is similar to the way Play-Doh keeps children occupied.

The big question is, will XML hit with the Weekend Silicon Warrior crowd? I have yet to see much evidence that it will. For a short while, the whole world was writing to HTML Goodies hoping to create a channel on their MSIE-formatted site. Channels used XML. Those messages have dried up.

I think the reason is simple: It's too much work for the benefit. As I said earlier, why would I go to the trouble of programming in XML when I could get the exact same look using the much easier HTML? Plus, my HTML page is more forgiving in terms of programming errors and is supported by all browsers.

I read somewhere that sites are going to have to start creating mirrors (equal sites) written in XML. That's so users can either see the pages in XML or in HTML, depending on their browser. Again I ask, what is the benefit?

I'll grant you this: If XML does become a cornerstone of the Web, the programming format will make searching much more efficient and successful. Users will know exactly what is on the page rather than having to hunt to find out.

But now we're back to the concern that the search engines are not tripping all over themselves to get at the language and install it in their searches.

If the language is so great (and it really is), why not?

Lineage, pure and simple. HTML-based pages outnumber XML-based pages thousands and thousands to one on the Web. What's a search engine to do, create dual searches? That'll slow things down a great deal. Maybe just index the text, but then what's the point of XML/HTML? It's a very rough call on the search engine's part.

Plus the search engine has a grasp on what the public wants. I have no doubt that if users were sending XML by the bowl-full, Yahoo! would jump all over it, but we're not.

So, why haven't we jumped all over it?

Again, benefit. I've already talked about XML not presenting much more visually than HTML, but there's also the difficulty factor. XML is not overly hard. It's a little picky here and there in that all items require end flags, and slashes have to be put in specific places, but it's not that rough. The difficulty is that the majority of people don't want to take the time to learn a new computer language that does the same things as the language they already know.

I've heard it suggested that all pages that are submitted to search engines must be translated into XML by the search engine as a possible solution. Right. See how long that lasts. One person suggested he and I start a search engine that only deals with XML pages. It's a thought. I wonder how it would do. I have no doubt it would be a very high-tech series of pages.

So... do we love XML or do we love XML not? Will the programming world embrace the language and push it upon us or will the public (with the real say in what works and what doesn't) simply refuse to grasp this new language? Sometimes I think it's a winner and sometimes I think it's ready to become a footnote.

I think most people would answer that they don't much have an opinion. They want the ball scores, the latest news headlines, and to be able to send e-mail. And make it fast. Don't care how the XML you do it. Just make it so I can understand it.


And that's that. Thanks again for reading. It makes the writing that much more enjoyable knowing that you will take 15 minutes out of your life to listen to me ramble on and on....

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And Remember: The first country that will feel the wrath of Y2K is New Zealand. They are always the first country, in the first time zone, to cross into a new year.

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