Subject: Re: XML
From: Chris Gooch <chris -dot- gooch -at- lightworkdesign -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 20 Aug 2002 11:19:10 +0100

Damien Braniff posted the following link, an article which
argues that xml / structured markup cannot deliver
on its promise of "one input, many outputs"
(i.e, single-sourcing), because of the primacy of
visual structure over logical structure (I _think_ that
is the argument the article is trying to make).

I think there are many problems with this article, although
it may form a useful counter argument to xml-evangalists
who over egg their own argument from time to time.
However nothing is very new in this debate, and the
article would probably have benefited from quoting
the FAQ on comp.text.tex:

Subject: GN1. What is the difference between word processing, desktop
publishing, technical publishing, electronic publishing, etc?

Electronic Publishing is an all-encompassing term that means
using computers (instead of hot lead) to set type for
documents. Although publishing includes a sequence of
processes right through distribution, EP tends to emphasize
document composition through production of a single master copy.

It is helpful to picture a graph with "complexity" along
the X axis and "length" along the Y axis. Complexity
varies from straight text to footnotes and indexing to
tables to line drawings to gray-scale illustration to
full color. Length varies from 1 page to 10,000 or more
(better make the Y axis logarithmic!)

Word processing dominates the lower left of the graph
(business letters). Desktop publishing dominates the lower
right (advertising layout). Host-based text formatters like
troff, TeX and Scribe dominate the upper-left (phone book).
Proprietary systems have traditionally dominated the upper
right (Sears catalog, encyclopedia); these are being supplanted
by hybrids consisting of pieces from the other segments.

The middle of the graph is fair ground for everyone but is
increasingly the domain of Technical Publication systems like
Interleaf and FrameMaker.

Despite being about 15 years or more old (no mention of xml you will
this common sense horses-for-courses statement could have cut down
on quite a lot of needless argument in the Hillesund article. In other
words, to say that structured markup is not applicable to all applications
is not to say that it is not applicable in a large set of applications.

There are other problems with the article -- for example the argument in
the section "Illusion of content structure and format seperation" that
tables are essentially visual markup rather than logical markup, and yet
useful in most kinds of documents, and therefore this breaks the
idea of seperating logical-structure from visual-structure.

Whilst it is true that tables do typically present issues for many
markup systems, xml and latex alike, I cannot agree that a table is
not a logical structure. A traditional table, as described here by
Hilesund, is a 2 dimensional array, which is really a visual
structure, not a logical one, he says. Oh yes? What about a three
dimensional one then? -- I suppose I can just about imagine a
3d graph or somesuch, but then what about a 4 dimensional array,
or 5 dimensional, or 6, 7, 8, 23, 267? All of these arrays are logical
structures, I contend, but make little sense as visual structures.

I can't help thinking the rest of the article is founded on simlarly
shaky ground. I'm reminded of the field the psychology of
vision, where behaviourists were completely stuck with
problems of little-men-in-your-head until some engineer
called David Marr came along, thought up a suitable
data structure / information representation (the 2.5d sketch)
and solved the whole issue. Now all psychologists are

My other thought is that, perhaps if some of the books published
about xml and docbook were typeset a bit better, articles such
as this wouldn't seem to have as much weight! :-) It's perhaps
a shame the xml community hasn't learnt more form the
LaTeX community.

Christopher Gooch, Technical Author
LightWork Design, Sheffield, UK.
chris -dot- gooch -at- lightworkdesign -dot- com

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