XML Myths and Visions: Revisiting the Words of the Father of XML

Editor’s Note:  Don Smith, Vice President and Senior Data Architect for Crowell Solutions, took a few minutes from his schedule at LavaCon Conference 2012 to reflect on the history and future of XML.

Rocketsled XML EditorThe Father of XML, Jon Bosak, once expressed (way back in 1998) a vision for how the markup language would be used to achieve media independent publishing. That early vision is finally coming true, but not the way Bosak expected. Let me explain.

Bosak’s article Media- Independent Publishing: Four Myths was published in October of 1998, a mere 8 months after XML became a W3C Recommendation. One sentence in Bosak’s last section (addressing myth #4 “XML is just for Data”) jumped out at me because it reveals Bosak’s vision for XML’s future as it relates to media independent publishing.

In explaining how XML and XSL work together to provide a standardized approach to structuring and formatting information, Bosak went on to relate the new technologies to the still-widespread reality of desktop word processors:

The standardized approach will begin to move beyond this specialized group of power users only when ordinary word processing and desktop publishing programs start saving out files as combinations of XML and XSL instead of proprietary formats.

Bosak’s vision was that common word processing applications would provide XML-XSL “save as” functionality, thus liberating users from proprietary information formats. We all know that’s never happened. But the other part of Bosak’s vision has now occurred.

What other part, you ask? The part where

  • word processors become XML editors
  • where XML editing becomes truly WYSIWYG – What You See Is What You Get (because that’s the implication of having word processors save out XML-XSL)
  • anyone using a word processor can author XML (which means everyone across the enterprise because everyone in the enterprise uses a word processor)

I find it striking that Bosak had such a vision for XML from the very beginning because I’ve been a part of this vision coming true over the past three years: I’ve seen an ordinary word processor become a real, true, robust, full-feature XML editor.

But this vision came true in a way Bosak never anticipated because it doesn’t involve the word processor saving XML and XSL. Rather, it involves styling the XML using the standard style mechanisms of the word processor itself. The XML remains what it always is – just good old semantic markup – while the style rules are just those of the word processor itself – in this case, Microsoft Word. The result is that users don’t need to know XSL and there isn’t even any XSL required. But you can still publish it to as many channels as you wish and you can also push XML authoring across the enterprise because it’s done inside a commonly used word processor.

This marriage of format and structure – true XML authoring in a WYSIWYG word processor – is now available in Crowell SolutionsRocketSled XML Editor. I started working with XML way back in 1998 and I didn’t have Bosak’s original vision. But seeing it come to pass has been amazing for someone who never even considered it a possibility.

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