Re: Cringely adds to the XML antiFUD

From: Dhiren Patel (
Date: Fri Apr 13 2001 - 18:08:17 PDT

Isn't this the same dude who lied about being a professor at
Stanford? Pretty low on the credibility-o-meter, IHMO.


At 11:34 AM 4/13/2001 -0700, Karl Anderson wrote:

>I found the latest Pulpit to be pretty annoying.
> The power of XML, then, is that it makes applications aware of what
> they are about. An XML search engine, for example, wouldn't have to
> drag back all the text and analyze it for content. It would just
> send out a message saying "All pages that are about fly fishing,
> please identify yourselves!" And they would.
>eh? He makes a little more sense later when he says that XML's value
>comes when it's controlled and driven by a taskmaster like .NET.
> Data, Know Thyself The Power of XML is Going to Change Everything
> About Computing. Now If Only I Could Describe It
> By Robert X. Cringely
> I've been waiting to comment on Microsoft's .NET business because it
> seems to me that .NET is far less important than the XML technology
> that lies beneath it. Same for Sun ONE, the most obvious competitor
> for .NET. XML is more interesting. But there is a risk in tackling
> such a technical subject. The risk is that my effort will be
> unsatisfying to nearly everyone. To the experts who breathe XML,
> what I write will inevitably look naive and maybe even incorrect. To
> the lay readers of this column, it might read like gibberish. So
> I've lain this week in a fetal position and tried to connect
> emotionally with both groups. What follows is my take on the real
> meaning of XML. If you think I'm stupid, well maybe so. Just don't
> tell my Mom.
> XML is the new religion at Microsoft. CEO Steve Ballmer calls what
> is happening "the XML revolution" -- a revolution so important that
> Ballmer is working hard pivoting all of Microsoft to take advantage
> of it. In three years, he says, XML is going to change completely
> the way we use computers, and most of Microsoft's competitors see it
> that way, too. But what the heck is XML, anyway, and why should we
> care?
> XML stands for eXtensible Markup Language, and is just the latest
> descendant of the General Markup language invented years ago at IBM
> as a kind of common style sheet for technical reports. The General
> Markup Language begat the Standard General Markup Language that
> begat the HyperText Markup Language (HTML) that made possible the
> World Wide Web. All these predecessors to XML were about describing
> a page, whether on paper or on a computer screen. Where is the text?
> Where are the pictures? What fonts are used on what color
> background? When a web page is written in HTML, it can be rendered
> (drawn on the computer screen) by any browser application like
> Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator running on almost
> any kind of computer, and should look pretty much the same on each,
> right down to those clever push buttons, check boxes, and radio
> dials.
> What's odd about HTML is that while it does a perfectly good job of
> describing how a web page will look and function and what words it
> will contain, HTML has no idea at all what any of those words
> actually mean. The page could be a baby food ad or plans to build an
> atomic bomb. While HTML knows a great deal about words, it knows
> nothing at all about information.
> Say we want to find specific information somewhere on the
> Internet. Most of us would use a search engine. Like every other web
> page, a search engine like Excite or Google is presented using HTML,
> but it isn't the HTML that finds us the stuff for which we are
> looking. HTML is not a programming language. People don't write
> programs in HTML. Instead, HTML describes how a web page looks and
> in that capacity it contains the text of that page, but to HTML,
> words are just words, not information. It is up to the search engine
> to invoke another program to first parse (read) the HTML, stripping
> away all the parts having to do with page description and leaving
> just the text. Then the text has to be identified and read by the
> search engine program, which is generally looking for key words
> specified by the user. It's a dumb system that usually only looks
> for word patterns in the text with little regard for what the text
> is actually about.
> HTML describes web pages but has nothing at all to say about what
> the page means. It describes fonts and positioning and which parts
> of the page are hyperlinks and which are text, but the HTML doesn't
> know whether the page is about fly fishing or pornography. XML, on
> the other hand, describes data, not pages. It is all about fly
> fishing or pornography -- about the actual information content --
> but says nothing about layout. You still need HTML for the layout
> part. So XML is not in any way a replacement for HTML.
> The power of XML, then, is that it makes applications aware of what
> they are about. An XML search engine, for example, wouldn't have to
> drag back all the text and analyze it for content. It would just
> send out a message saying "All pages that are about fly fishing,
> please identify yourselves!" And they would.
> XML makes web content intelligent. And by doing so, it enables us to
> move beyond the current world where we look at the Internet through
> browsers to a more advanced world where every application is
> Internet-aware and maybe the browser disappears as a popular
> application. Once your spreadsheet talks XML, it can link across the
> Net into other spreadsheets and into server-based applications that
> offer even greater power.
> That's at the heart of Microsoft's .NET (dot-NET) initiative, which
> puts little XML stub applications on your PC that don't actually do
> much until they are linked to the big XML servers Microsoft will be
> running over the Internet. All your office applications become
> XML-aware, which means you can do powerful things on tiny computers
> as long as you continue to pay rent to Microsoft. The effect of
> dot-NET is cooperative computing, but the real intent is to smooth
> Microsoft's cash flow and make it more deterministic. .NET will move
> us from being owners to renters of software and will end, Microsoft
> hopes forever, the tyranny of having to introduce new versions of
> products just to get more revenue from users. Under .NET, we'll pay
> over and over not just for the application parts that run on
> Microsoft computers, not ours, but we'll also pay for data, itself,
> with Microsoft taking a cut, of course.
> Probably the biggest reason why we even care about this stuff is
> because of the Y2K computer crisis of the late 1990s. Back then, we
> had hundreds of thousands of mainframe computer programs that didn't
> make a lick of sense to even the smartest programmer trying to read
> their code. Their original programmers had retired or died, taking
> with them any notion of what most of the computer code actually
> meant. So a whole new batch of programmers had to find ways to
> assign meaning to what appeared to be gibberish. What made the job
> so difficult was that the code wasn't readable by humans. Huge
> databases contained hundreds of millions of entries, but which words
> were the customer names and which where their account numbers? It
> wasn't at all clear, and every program was different from every
> other program.
> XML changes all that by introducing the concept of metadata -- data
> about data. In XML, each piece of data not only includes the data
> itself, but also a description of the data, what it means. Now your
> XML database can have a list of names (that's the data) and a tag on
> the data saying that these are customer names (that's the
> metadata). Should some Y2K-like catastrophe afflict our XML
> database, it would be easy for any programmer to look at the
> metadata to reconstruct the database program. In fact the metadata
> is the program, which is how those fly fishing pages were able to
> announce themselves in an earlier example.
> Once we embrace XML, and nearly the entire computer industry already
> has, then wondrous things begin to happen. Airline ticket databases
> suddenly are aware that's what they are. So within the constraints
> of a vocabulary limited to words like "passenger" and "seat number,"
> finding the cheapest way from here to there becomes a matter of just
> asking. The query -- the question you are trying to answer by
> analyzing data -- becomes the database, itself.
> XML is leading to a fundamental shift in the way that people store
> information -- away from the traditional use of documents and files
> to thinking about a document as a container into which various
> pieces of data are combined or "poured" as required. This kind of
> document, which is the typical product of an XML application, may be
> stored for an extended period of time or it may exist only as long
> as a person interacts with it.
> With XML, where the information resides becomes less important than
> being able to access it. This leads to cooperative applications
> where modest client machines like handheld computers or mobile
> telephones can use powerful servers to accomplish major computing
> tasks. Imagine a television reporter who shoots video of an event,
> uploads the video to a server, then edits the video using only a
> mobile telephone. XML can make that possible.
> But wait, there's more. That "X" in XML stands for "extensible,"
> which means this is a language to which you are allowed to add new
> words. And what those new words can signify is almost unlimited. Now
> that XML makes data more or less self-aware, it is possible to have
> that data announce itself as it changes. When a favorite stock
> price jumps or falls, you'll know, because an XML application tracks
> that stock which now squeals out its state of being trade-by-trade.
> The end result of adding XML throughout the Internet will be a
> change in web infrastructure. We'll put much more effort into
> maintaining and updating data and much less effort into presenting
> it. Today, huge server farms are used to present to users over and
> over again what can be beautiful but essentially stagnant pages of
> stale information. Tomorrow your computer, whether it is on your
> desk of your wrist, will directly query XML data sources to generate
> dynamically not the web page as its authors want you to see it, but
> exactly the web page you want to see. And this page will use only
> up-to-the-moment data -- data that you will probably pay for. And
> there lies the business opportunity, providing these new data
> services.
> Who will lead this new business? Though XML is an open standard,
> usable by anyone for free, Microsoft is the early favorite for
> commercialization with its .NET platform. One aspect of Microsoft's
> XML push that has gone generally unnoticed is the role of Great
> Plains Software, Microsoft's most recent and second-largest ever
> acquisition. Buying Great Plains, a maker of financial software for
> small and medium-sized businesses, has everything to do with
> .NET. The Great Plains customer base is ideal for Microsoft's new
> web services.
> Going head-to-head with Microsoft, as always, is Sun Microsystems,
> whose XML platform is called Sun ONE. Like Microsoft, Sun's offering
> is intended to attract companies that want to provide XML-based data
> services. But Microsoft and Sun have plenty of competition in this
> emerging market. All of the leading tech vendors, including IBM,
> Oracle, Sun and BEA Systems, are pushing their own technologies for
> individuals and companies interested in writing and running web
> services.
> If there is one company that will benefit no matter what, it is
> Cisco Systems, because one characteristic of XML is data
> expansion. Putting data in XML format and including the metadata
> description inevitably makes data bigger because we are shipping
> over the line not just the raw data, but also a description of the
> data. Bigger data slows down the Internet. A slower Internet makes
> network service providers build bigger network connections.
> And newer, bigger network connections always means more work for
> Cisco.
>Karl Anderson

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