XML News from Friday, April 1, 2005

The W3C XML Binary Characterization Working Group has published XML Binary Characterization. Like Captain Renault in Casablanca I'm shocked, shocked to find that the group "recommends that the W3C produce a 'binary XML' recommendation." This was pretty much a foregone conclusion from the get go. The gorup was formed by people who had already decided that real XML wasn't going to meet their needs. A few of them were even right about that.

According to the draft, "The driving notion behind 'binary XML' is generally that it would provide an equally interoperable format with a different set of properties"; and right there the group's gone off the rails and started wandering into oxymoronism. Even a well-documented, well-supported, well-understood, well-implemented binary format will not be as interoperable as text. Text has important characteristics of intelligibility and redundancy that a binary format will not.

The draft is careful to put "binary XML" in quotes, but it's still wrong. Binary formats may have their uses, but they aren't XML. I propose we stop calling this teratoma XML anything and let it live or die on its own merits. If it can't survive without hijacking the XML brand name, then it deserves to become extinct. But if the working group really just can't live without using the three capital letters X, M, and L, I have an alternate proposal for them. Instead of calling the format "binary XML", let's call it "Not XML". For example,

This document describes the processes and results of the Not XML Characterization Working Group in evaluating the need and feasibility of a "Not XML" recommendation. It includes an analysis of which properties such a format must possess. It recommends that the W3C produce a "Not XML" recommendation and enumerates the minimum requirements which this "Not XML" recommendation must meet.

The working group has determined a number of MUST properties for their eventual Not XML format:

I predict they're not going to be able to create a format that satisfies all their musts. I also predict that this failure isn't going to stop them from recommending Not XML anyway. There's a long history of W3C working groups ignoring their requirements when they become inconvenient.

The real problem here is not the decision to invent a new binary format. It's the effort to hijack the interoperable XML standard for use cases it was never intended for, and in so doing break XML for everybody who's already using it successfully. The best case scenario is that this effort produces a spec that flops in the marketplace and is widely ignored. (cf. XML 1.1.) The worst case scenario is a universe of incompatible, opaque binary data and tools that no one can understand. There's no chance this format will succeed. No one format will meet all needs. No one format can. Uber-solutions always fail. Think ADA, EBXML, or the Edsel. The only question is how much damage Not XML will do while failing.

The Mozilla Project has posted Camino 0.8.3, a Mac OS X web browser based on the Gecko 1.7 rendering engine and the Quartz GUI toolkit. It supports pretty much all the technologies that Mozilla does: HTML, XHTML, CSS, XML, XSLT, etc. 0.8.3 is a bug fix release. Mac OS X 10.1.5 or later is required.