Thursday, February 15, 2007

Where are we going?

Recently, XML seems to have been playing an important role for me...I've been working with various XML-RPC frameworks, reviewing a book on XHTML (actually, a book on HTML 4 which occasionally reminds you to close elements) and also dealing with DocBook. For some reason, this means when I read something like Ten predictions for XML in 2007 I feel like I'm in a position to comment. Don't worry, I don't want to cover all ten points...

If I had to choose one big story for next year, it would be the Atom Publishing Protocol (APP). [...] APP is the first major protocol to be based on Representational State Transfer (REST), the architecture of the Web. Most systems to date have only used a subset of HTTP, usually GET and POST but not PUT or DELETE. Many systems like SOAP and Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV) have been actively contradictory to the design of HTTP. APP, by contrast, is working with HTTP rather than against it.

Well, this suits me...a complete bi-directional implementation of HTTP would certainly be pleasant to use. But the point is that you already can do bi-directional transactions with these ugly hack interfaces, which importantly are already in use. This isn't like moving from rcp to HTTP to do your file uploads, this is like moving from HTTP to a version of HTTP which IE doesn't recognise for doing your content publication. WebDAV might be ugly but it already allows people to run their Subversion or calendar (yes, I know...) servers over "the web". APP is good but the activation energy may be too high.

2007 is the make-or-break year for the Semantic Web.

s/make-or-//, I believe. I've talked to two people who considered themselves important in the world of the semantic web, and have attended a talk by Sir Tim on the subject. I still have yet to see anything beyond so-called blue skies proposals and views on how much better the web will be once everyone embraces semantics, which none of them appeared to have done. At least, there's nothing yet which has convinced me that Semantic Web is some kind of killer app, and that what it can do can't already be done with a bit of XML/XSLT and some good schemas. Maybe that's the point, that traditional web will just slide into Semanticism by dint of XQuery, XProc and the rest of the X* bunch. I don't think so.

2007 will be the first year in which almost every significant browser fully supports XSLT 1.0 [...] I predict that this will render many of the debates about HTML 5 and XHTML 2 moot. Sites will publish content in whatever XML vocabulary they like, and provide stylesheets that convert it to HTML for browser display.

Yup, this couldn't come too soon. I sorely hope that HTML 5 will be still-born; redundant as soon as it becomes available. I also hope that document-generating frameworks will become better at generating valid markup in the future (which is at least easier to do with XML than SGML)...of course if browsers really do make a good job of supporting XSLT then they won't really be able to generate invalid markup as they'll be doing it in their own format.

Apple will release Safari 3 along with Leopard. Although it will focus mostly on Apple proprietary extensions, Safari 3 will add support for Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) for the first time.

That's not much of a prediction, unless predicting things means reading the WebKit changelog. What would be good is for a couple of the more popular also-ran browsers to support MathML (I think Firefox already does in some fashion, WebKit is at the "we're thinking about it" stage, and I really don't know about any others) so that it has a chance of being adopted. I speak here as an ex-physicist who was annoyed at seeing academics putting DVI or PostScript files on the web, or (and this is just as bad if not worse) HTML with graphics of the equations. If LaTeX could be transformed into HTML+MathML and published on the web then we'd be somewhere approaching the original goal of the Nexus.

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