My summary of "Why use XML"

Gregor Hagedorn G.Hagedorn at BBA.DE
Mon Dec 13 16:02:53 CET 1999

Kevin brought up the question of advantages of XML. Somewhat belated,
because I have been away for 10 days, here are some comments, trying
to summarize the discussion as I see it.

1. I agree entirely with Noel that the discussions about XML on this
list are intended to _explore_ the advantages of XML, not to settle
on it. XML is well defined to be used in the context of text
documents, but my impression is that for data that contain more
structure, the XML variants are right now being developed (for
example XML-Schema, XML-RDF). So it will be good to wait a moment
before making decisions. And there is much to do regarding the
information model itself! I hope that we will have more discussions
about this.

2. I think Leigh Dodds did a good job in listing the advantages in
his XDelta document. Generally I think that using standards and
standard tools is a good idea. However, most certainly, XML will not
be an "ultimate standard", as Jean-Marc thinks it is. XML will be
certainly  replaced by improved mechanisms. My feeling is that it is
sufficiently relevant a step that it will be supported in a backwards
compatible way even in 50 years. Of course, nobody can predict this.

3. Regarding the issue of size of data set, verbosity, and data
compression: Some comments, esp. when it comes to "using it on
PalmTops etc." confuse the issue of an exchange format with a native
data format. Esp. given that XSLT will make it very easy to convert
data, any program will most likely have a native, usually binary
format that is optimized for operation speed and/or file size.
I think we should not consider size any factor of an _exchange_
format. This format should be as robust and compatible for the future
as possible. Many of us are developers of programs and tend to
underestimate the effort that goes into the development of data sets.
Our programs will certainly be replaced by better ones, but if the
data can be maintained, revised, and improved as it is done for
centuries with printed publications, I believe we will make better
progress in biodiversity research. The data sets are the gold, and
they should be preserved in a way that remains readable in 50 years.
Because of this, however, using compression algorithms and then write
it on a CD may be a bad idea for long term storage. Imagine having to
decompress something that was compressed with some program on a Apple
II machine...

Gregor Hagedorn                 G.Hagedorn at
Institute for Plant Virology, Microbiology, and Biosafety
Federal Research Center for Agriculture and Forestry (BBA)
Koenigin-Luise-Str. 19          Tel: +49-30-8304-2220
14195 Berlin, Germany           Fax: +49-30-8304-2203

Often wrong but never in doubt!

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