Re: Why SGML?

Subject: Re: Why SGML?
From: Simon North <snorth -at- TEDOPRES -dot- NL>
Date: Thu, 14 Dec 1995 17:12:05 GMT

There are three basic reasons why SGML:

1. longevity
2. re-purposing
3. re-use

At my last place of employment (admittedly defense oriented), a typical
product development life cycle is somewhere in the region of 5 years. This
is then followed by an in-service life of 25+ years, during which time full
support _must_ be guaranteed. Now, think back over the last 30 years and the
changes that have happened in the area of electronic document production. Then
look at how fast things are changing now, and extrapolate 30 years into the
future. Let's face it, you can't even guarantee that a giant such as Microsoft
will still exist in 30 years time, much less that your MS-Word files will
still be readable! SGML offers platform and vendor independence. Reason 1.

Not so long ago, the WWW was almost unheard of (boy it was fun when I was the
only one I'd heard of who used Lynx - much less Mosaic), but suddenly we have
a new medium. Shortly we'll be doing the same with Hyper-G databases, Java
applets, COSMO applications, VRML environments, HyTime webs ... new media
all the time. Partly because of its platform and vendor independence, but
mostly because the inherent nature of SGML documents is at a higher level of
abstraction (structure rather than content and layout), SGML elements can be
far more easily adapted to different media, different layouts, different
methods of presentation such as computer text verbalisers. Reason 2.

Leading on from the two above, by identifying the nature of the _information_
a document you more or less turn each document into a mini database. I will
that we are still waiting for major application software support such as object
databases, entity managers and so on, but they _are_ coming. This means that you
can re-use all your data. SGML is NOT just about text, it's about INFORMATION.
it's about re-use: Write once, use many times. Reason 3.

There are other reasons, less important ones maybe, such as the increased ease
with which documents can be multiple-authored. But these three are the most

Simon North
Documentation Engineer

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