Re: Formatting Objects considered harmful

Subject: Re: Formatting Objects considered harmful
From: "Simon St.Laurent" <simonstl@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 22 Apr 1999 16:38:37 -0400
At 12:31 PM 4/22/99 -0700, you wrote:
>This whole debate seems to miss several key points:
> 1.) Stripping the original semantics is NOT ALWAYS harmful:
>     a.) Storing any derived form of original content
>         that strips the semantic meaning MAY be harmful. If one
>         actually needs the original semantics, it probably is harmful.
>     b.) Conversely, almost all books contain significant derived
>         The editing and filtering (authoring) process often ADDS value,
>         yet it clearly strips all the original semantics.
> I can't unconditionally side with a) or with b), it depends on what I am
>looking for in producing or in using the document.

The counter-point, of course, is that stripping the original semantics in
NOT ALWAYS necessary, and that the 'added' value comes at a cost.

> 2.) You can't determine the semantics from a DTD alone, you can only
>derive the syntax and the allowed organization (of both elements (records,
>fields, objects) and attributes (properties, qualifiers, modifiers,
>constraints, values).
>  Many of the original document components are stored in proprietary
>tagsets (even if encoded in XML syntax), I defy you to determine the
>semantics given just the tags and the DTD. (In many DB applications, even
>knowing the full DB schema is inadeguate to derive the semantics of the
>underlying information. One is forced to guess them from record NAMES and
>field NAMES, which often evolve overtime. Fields are often overloaded with
>alternate uses, making the actual semantics purely a guess.)

No, you can't always determine semantics from a DTD, but it's a better
place to start from than a pile of formatting in most instances.  Given the
choice of a well-documented DTD or a bunch of FO's, I'll take the
well-documented DTD.  Generally, I'll even take an undocumented but
supposedly meaning bunch of named information over a bunch of formatted

> 3.) A tagset (such as XSL's FOs) which is public, stable, and well
>understood (with published semantics) is FAR better than a proprietary
>encoding or a proprietary tagset (without published semantics).

What are you comparing FO's to?  Maybe this is better than a proprietary
applications with no public access, but compared to the rest of XML, I
can't see it as a gain.

> 4.) XML allows the definition of application specific tagsets. XSL's FO
>tagset is designed solely for describing paginated and non-paginated
>presentations, it is no more dangerous than any other tagset. If you misuse
>it, you are just as foolish as if you misuse any other tagset or file format.

Unfortunately, I think that we can all agree that there are many foolish
people in this world, and that foolishness on the Internet has side effect
that bother more than just the fools.

Simon St.Laurent
XML: A Primer
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