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Friday, February 28, 2003

Quote of the Week

Kendall Grant Clark identifies a problem, and comes up with a novel solution: pragmatism. Given the Microsoft reality, is the best hope for getting XML as document up and running really the next major release of Office: my, my , my.

If St.Laurent is right, we may be facing a kind of XML variant of C.P Snow's famous (or infamous, if you prefer F.R. Leavis's demolition of Snow's claims) "two cultures" idea: XML developers do not understand what it means to not be a developer, to think about content creation and the like in ways which are unaware of hard technical issues; and, on the other side, non-developers do not understand the hard technical issues involved in creating tools and technical infrastructures within which everyone can be productive. Of course, it may also be the case that the usability people -- as they are wont to complain -- haven't been attended to carefully enough. They tend to be the cog in the machine that is supposed to help the developers understand and build precisely what the non-developers want and need. In other words, there may not be two cultures but merely two different groups, each with its own needs, goals, and interests, which have not yet found enough common, practical ground upon which to reach a mutually beneficial arrangement. Maybe we need to take a more cold-minded, materialist point of view?

Maybe we need to take a more cold-minded, materialist point of view? Norm Walsh, perhaps inadvertently, suggested just such a perspective when he commented that "the tool/development focus is...intensely focused on applications that involve slurping content out of databases, coding it up in messages, firing it across the web, and then slamming it back into databases" -- to, one supposes, the detriment of human-focused tool development. "But, hey," Walsh hastened to add, "everyone has to make a living". Insofar as Walsh's implication is correct, that there simply is more money to be made building tools for the "data" side of XML than for the "documents" side, it seems reasonable to assume that human-centered tools, which are intended to ease the creation of XML content by humans, are going to lag behind the data tools.

This economic perspective also implies a rather unsettling fact -- unsettling if you are, like me, a long time critic of Microsoft. It implies that the XML facilities in the next major release of Office are the very best, realistic hope for the future of the documents side of XML, at least in terms of mass market success. No other entity in the industry (in any industry, for that matter) is as able to swing mass numbers of computers users toward or away from specific technological solutions. That Microsoft has gained such an ability by virtue of its position as an adjudicated monopolist is in some very real sense beside the point. If you keep a flame burning for the XML-as-document position, outside of Microsoft and a few other notables like Topologi, it is and will likely remain slim pickings for some time.
Source: XML.Com

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