Abuse of XML

Thursday 30 October 2003This is over 19 years old. Be careful.

Programming with Circles, Triangles and Rectangles is an interesting paper about integrating XML and its data model into programming language, introducing a language called Xen (good name!) as a demonstration.

Unfortunately, the authors have made some very bad XML decisions in making their paper available. If you try to read the paper in Mozilla Firebird, you will get an empty page. Looking at the source shows you why: the paper is served as XML, with a client-side XSLT transform to produce a readable page. Rather than use a standard mechanism to accomplish this, they’ve written some JavaScript to use Microsoft proprietary objects to perform the transform. OK, so this is one of those occasional times where you have to fire up IE to view a page so carelessly produced that only IE can display it.

Once you do, you get a long pause while the document is transformed, and then you see a page that looks like the state of the art circa 1996. After all that, I would have hoped at least to have some interesting effects, some unusual interaction, some truly beautiful typography. I got none of those things.

Why is there a client-side transform here in the first place? This is a large paper, 66K of XML, and it’s totally static. It’s the worst possible document to create with a client-side transform. Every reader will perform exactly the same computation to produce exactly the same page. Why not do the transform once, and then publish the HTML? And if you do need a client-side transform, why use a proprietary mechanism? Much simpler techniques (no coding required) are available that work in most modern browsers.

So in my effort to read what these clever guys have to say about using XML well in programming languages, I’m forced to confront the boneheaded XML decisions they made to get their paper on the web. Looking at the XSLT transform, it looks like the result of a publishing tool, but that doesn’t let them off the hook. It doesn’t bode well for the rest of their ideas...

Updated: Ted Leung points to a vanilla HTML version of the paper.


It looks like the paper was a presentation at the XML 2003 conference and is in "gcapaper" format. Digging around a bit, it seems like a number of XML conferences are using this format. For example: http://www.svgopen.org/2003/presenter.html

So, they used this format because the conference required it. Yes, they should have put the resultant static HTML document on their web site. But the authors aren't the original culprits here.
I don't buy it. Yes, the format was designed by someone else, yes the format is becoming standard in certain circles, yes there's even some benefit in making that format available on the web.

The fact remains that it was hard for me to read the paper, and it didn't have to be. I publish this blog in both HTML and RSS format. Why can't they publish their paper in both HTML and XML?
I agree. It's totally lame to have a paper that you can only read from MSIE. I just was explaining where the gcapaper format that they used came from.

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