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SGML vs other standards



Dear all,

        Haven't been around for a while, but I noticed some comments
        about why is SGML the standard? Why not others too.

        I'm sure we aren't going to get into the great debate again
        but I thought I'd share the following thoughts...

        Once upon a time there was plain old text.
        Then came basic systems that permitted words to be
        made in bold or italics (if our daisy wheel
        or dot matrix driver supported such things - for the older ones 
        amongst us remember EPSON FX80 codes etc)
        
        Then WYSIWYG came along - brave new world stuff.
        We all jumped on the band wagon (in the PC world at least)
        and had all manner of fonts everywhere.
        [You've seen the results of someone new to word processors
         a different font on every line...]

        When the web came about the natural extension was for a
        simple wysiwyg system, hence HTML (based on the foundation of
        SGML).

        Meanwhile in unix land they stuck with nroff, troff etc
        then came tex and latex. Only recently (eg StarOffice etc)
        have we gone all gooey.

        The problem is that there are now millions of pages on the
        web and on corporate intranets. Sure they're all pretty and
        individual but that really doesn't contribute to the
        problem of turning data into information and thence knowledge
        and understanding.
        Almost none of this mass of info is properly indexed. The
        results of search engines demonstrates some of the issues.

        And yes I do have a point :)... 

 <soap box>
        We now have too much data. We need data mining to sift
        through it all. To do this we need structured data.
        PRESENTATION IS ALMOST IRRELEVANT (I'm not saying unimportant
        I'm saying irrelevant to this problem. given a well structured
        document presentation is realtively trivial and will look better
        than a hand crafted solution. IMHO most latex documents look
        more uniform and elegant than any Word document, and you don't
        spend hours agonising over tab stops etc).

        We are all now just starting to move down the path of
        structured information content. A relatively simple extensible
        system that is human readable is required. SGML provides
        a good environment to do this.

        Now we can really start filtering and indexing data properly
        and presenting in an appropriate manner on anything from a 
        TV set to a computer screen to a mobile phone. Why because
        we know what the data is about, so we can be more intelligent
        about how we present it.

        This technology although reasonably well understood is still
        in its infancy. Sure SGML editors seem like a step backward
        because they don't focus on looks, but the power is greater.
        It is a bit like windowing system vs command prompts, the latter
        tend to be uglier but a re far more powerful.
        Things will improve, we'll get good (free) SGML tools running
        that strike a balance between structure and looks. A little bit
        of visual aid and indentation is of benefit as a visual
        cue to structure.

        The last thing we need is to have another input format.
        Sometimes democracy is bad. IMHO this one of those times.
        One input standard is best for now whilst we develop this
        technology. Multiple standards in this case will only hamper us.

        BTW IMHO I disagree with someone's earlier comment that pictures
        are bad. Pictures are good, very very good. If you have ever
        tried describing something even simple like typing a bowline
        without pictures you'll know what I mean. Computer things tend
        to be much harder. More pictures. Sure maybe we restrict
        ourselves to B&W vector formats for now. But we should be
        pursuing some good drawing standards.

        </Soap box>

        best regards
        
                Kim

-- 
        Kim Lester

        Senior Engineer,
        Datafusion Systems Pty Ltd
        http://www.dfusion.com.au/


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