The wonderful world of XML?

The wonderful world of XML?

Summary: Has anyone ever tried to read a raw XML document before they espouse the human-readability of XML?

TOPICS: Browser

A raging debate has sparked over the recent announcement by the state government of the Massachusetts to migrate to the Oasis Open Document format.  Since Oasis Open Document and the next version of Microsoft Office are based on XML, I have a better question for both camps -- why XML?

I suppose it's because XML has the following benefits:

  • Increase storage industry sales by 1000%
  • Increase Telco and ISP sales of bandwidth by 1000%
  • Create a whole new category of hardware sales in XML acceleration
  • Sell a ton of new XML compression gear
  • Increase server sales due to additional computational requirements

Well that's all fine and dandy but how is this a good thing if I've got a business to run?  It sure sounds like a bonanza of new sales for my vendors but it's probably going to send me to the poor house.  What does XML do for me that I can't do with existing binary formats and existing RDBMS formats?  What kind of ROI (return on investment) can possibly justify the massive retrofit of my entire IT infrastructure to be "XML-friendly"?  Oh, but it's human-readable!  Umm, has anyone ever tried to read a raw XML document before they espouse the human-readability of XML?  Maybe some Vi guru can call it human readable but I sure can't and I don't know of normal person who would.  A simple CSV file that is at least 10 times smaller is infinitely more human-readable than XML.  Granted a human has no chance of reading a binary format file like a Microsoft Access MDB Database file but that's what software is suppose to do, present information in a easy to view format.  No normal person is interested in reading raw XML even if they're guilty of spreading the myth of XML human-readability.

Data is ultimately stored in system memory as a tight, non-verbose and efficient binary format before it can be processed by the CPU.  Data is ultimately presented to the video hardware as binary data.  Data is ultimately sent over a wide-area-network in binary packets and cells.  Data ultimately has to be presented to the user in a graphical manner, which has nothing to do with XML.  What then is achieved by taking a massive detour with bloated XML documents when they ultimately have to be processed into something else before they can be parsed by the CPU or human?  I could care less about the hardware vendors making billions off the additional hardware sales that XML will generate if it is ever adopted.  I've seen XML documents and they are anywhere from 3 to 15 times bigger.  I could care less about either new XML format from Microsoft or Oasis and I say a pox on both their houses.

Topic: Browser

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  • Well said!

    XML is a regression to seventies style hierarchical methods of data management.

    This has already been tried once, proved to be too inconsistent and complex, and been pretty much completely superceded by SQL DBMSs. This is despite SQL being a deeply flawed implementation of the relational model.

    I am glad that a few other people out there are finally coming to their senses about this absurdity.

    When I first saw XML my reaction was. Why are we going back to something that is the logical equivalent of a COBOL file description? I will leave it to the XML enthusiasts to answer this question.
  • Logical-Physical Independence

    George, the point you make is absolutely correct.

    The XMLers don't seem to get the point that so long as you always represent data in a consistent way logically, it doesn't matter in the slightest how you store it physically.

    This is just simply a fundamental rule of data management.

    As you correctly say the computer has to process the data physically in some way other than which it represented logically.
  • Right on the Mark!

    Once again you take the lipstick and makeup off the Open Source Pig (OSP) and show it for what really is: a pig.

    Thanks for focusing on the tech and not letting a political agenda ruin your critical facilities. Thanks! --Tom.
    • This is not an open/closed source issue

      The issue at point is the way in which XML deals with things such as the storage/formatting of data. In essence what i think george is getting at is the fact that while XML is "human readable", it is not necessarily "understandable" and also creates a need for greater storage capacity for any given data.
      As an aside, I can pick up a book written in french for instance, I would be anle to read it, however not being a french speaker/reader, I would be lost as to what it means.
  • One of the few uses of XML

    I don't find XML very compelling myself, to tell the truth, but I have to admit it has one use that I know about.

    It's easier for localization tools to extract data and put it back in place without corrupting an hidden tag. Of course, the advantage depends mostly on the localization tool you're using, but then again, most of them aren't made to work within Word itself.

    (and then, there's all this talk about open standards, which could work without XML...)

    I think XML is more an emotional thing than a really rational one.
    • Not the only use

      If someone is very enthusiastic about XML it is usually a clear signal that very little else they say will make sense and can thus be safely ignored.
    • XML more emotional than rational

      Yes, either you've got faith or you ain't got faith

  • I think you left out a piece.

    I also think I know what you're going to say, but...

    XML has a purpose. That purpose is usually discussed in context of the ability to communicate among systems.

    To be fair, shouldn't you explain the purpose of XML and give an alternative means of achieving the same result, at least as a conceptual example?
    Anton Philidor
    • Yes you're right

      I'm trying to go on a diet with the size of my blogs :).

      But you're right that there is a purpose of XML. But can you honestly tell me that this couldn't be done in a less verbose and more efficient manner? Can it not be done in a binary format? Ah yes the old "human-readable" format. I heard the inventor of XML say that on a TV interview. Only problem is that it isn't human-readable. What they really mean is that it is readable by a crude text editor. It's readable by the powerful Vi text editor. Again, how does this help normal people?
      • Do "normal people" have to be helped?

        How much of your time do you spend helping people work out what question they're asking?

        According to Plato, Socrates thought his method was intended to clarify questions. Once those were clear, people already had the answers.
        I appreciate his faith in common sense, but I don't share it completely. The answers, too, take sharpening and then judgment.

        Instead, a frequent approach is getting to the specifics and then ramping up to contention.

        [It's Friday, which for me encourages expatiation.
        Luckily, my musings usually don't exceed the very slightly overweight level which proves to be very healthy, discomfitting the types who prefer people lean and hungry...
        Okay, maybe this should be pruned. Nah... Never pruned.]

        Anyway, here too, the issue is defining a goal and then considering the pros and cons of possible solutions. Without this context, your accurate discussion can produce dissatisfaction, but not change in a positive attitude toward XML.
        Anton Philidor
        • Normal people want to understand

          You seem to be putting the burden on me to defend both Pro and Con. I honestly can't think of a single Pro of XML. The only Pro I've ever heard about XML is that it's human-readable which is completely bogus.

          I'm trying to speak about XML in plain English here because I for one am fed up with the XML hype.

          If you can think of something that is a Pro for XML, let me know because I sure can't.
          • No Pro argument for XML to be made by anyone?

            The arguments in favor can be deeply flawed, but they have to be more significant than human-readable. Think of all the money invested and alternatives rejected. This is supposed to be a positive reason for buying products that sell because they're better than older versions.

            You're making the point that flaws prevent XML from serving the purpose for which it's intended. That purpose is to give buyers something they have been looking for, and the approach used is supposed to be better than any other approach that might be devised at present.

            I already agree that XML is more than necessary, but I want to reassure myself that I'm thinking about it appropriately. Context.
            Anton Philidor
          • Human Readable is NOT an argument of XML

            A properly format and application of XML does not care whether it is a human or a machine that is 'receiving' the document. It requires the understanding of the XML document's Schema/DTD to really fully understands it.

            The whole 'Human' readability IS NOT and SHOULD NOT ever be a selling point. All it really means is that one can 'create' or define an XML schema such that the XML doc can be understood without the use of the schema. However, in any real world situation more complex than the 'Employee-Phone-Address' samples that are way overuse in all books on XML out there. It is crazy and just plenty irresponsible to say that it is 'Human Readable' as an advantage for XML.

            You guys needed to stop reading books/articles by some of these so call 'experts' who are giving you the 'wrong' end of information.
          • Is the inventor of XML wrong?

            The primary reason for XML given by the INVENTOR of XML was that it is human-readable. This is what I got from a TV interview I saw.

            I have given many reasons why XML is horrible and you have not refuted one of them. You also haven't given me a single reason for XML.
          • Sounds like a slick sales pitch

            "That purpose is to give buyers something they have been looking for, and the approach used is supposed to be better than any other approach that might be devised at present."

            That sure sounds like Kool-aid to me. How is it better? All I've been hearing is that "oh don't worry about the bloat, hardware and bandwidth is cheap". Really? That's news to me.

            By the way, "human-readable" was the primary argument given by the inventor of XML in a 15 minute TV interview I saw.
          • Really ?

            Who was the 'inventer' that you saw on TV ? I'll like to see that myself.

            Really, I'm totally agreed that Human Readable is not and should not be a point to consider when looking at a solution. And really it is the flexibility and not the efficiency that is the advantages of XML over others.
          • It was on Tech TV

            It was Charles Goldfarb on Tech TV. He was asked why not a binary format. His reply was that XML was "human-readable". He even brought up an example where he had a problem with his quicken application or something like that and he was able to debug the XML files that it outputted.
          • eXcitable Marketing Language

            I think this would be a clearer explanation of what XML actually stands for.
          • I use XML

            I designed our system to use XML for both a configuration file and for inter-DLL communication.

            I use my favorite text editor (yes, it's vi) to modify the configuration file, but I'll admit that we're close to putting it into an SQL database.

            I designed our DLL's to take two parameters: an input XML document and an output XML document. This has prevented DLL Hell and we're just passing pointers to the XML documents around.

            We also return data from the database to the web client in XML so that we can use XSLT to render the HTML. Could we have done this with CSV parsing instead? Yes. And frankly, given the complexity of XSLT, we probably should have gone a non-XSLT direction. I have at least one of my senior developers cursing every time XSLT is mentioned.

            The XML/XSLT combination is a memory intensive parsing / HTML-rendering method and caps the size of data that we can send back to the web client.

            Is XML the answer to everything -- including long term data storage? [b]No![/b] As Jorwell pointed out, XML is a hierarchical data structure that has been proven unsuitable for data storage ever since the 70s.
          • What does this have to do with DLL hell?

            How exactly is this preventing DLL Hell if you didn't output and input in the XML format? If you're talking about various versions of DLL files that cause incompatibility among various Win32 applications, then DLL Hell is 100% avoidable if you keep your own copy of your DLL in your own directory. I'm more concerned with XML hell and the adverse affects to storage, WAN, and processing infrastructure.