We finally got Tim Berners-Lee to tell us why he invented the Web one day: first, the Web, this universal information space, stimulates and empowers each person that gets access to it. Sharing information is fun! Second, it facilitates understanding that is so critical to working in groups--groups of all sizes, from a family to an enterprise to a nation. Finally, the machines in this information space can eliminate the tedium of working with information--printing it out, copying it, finding it--and free people to use their creative energy. His gut feeling was that as the computers take on more of the work, it will revolutionize our ability to solve problems. And he was right. The Web is the driving force in the digital age.
It's based on a simple model: global hypertext. Start with the sort of every-day documents that people are used to, and add one killer feature: links that take you anywhere in the world.
The early success of HTML--before tables, fonts, and scripting--shows that links are more critical than all the powerful desktop publishing features.
Of course the desktop publishing features came: after HTML 2.0 came HTML 3.2 with tables and fonts. HTML was designed for use with stylesheets, but they didn't hit the scene until HTML was at version 4.0. By then, the black art of page design using stupid HTML tricks and images had become quite mature, and stylesheets faced stiff competition.
But have no fear: stylesheets are here to stay. They're indispensible for good information management.
And that's the name of the game: information management. Expect to hear it more than "money management" pretty soon.
The electronic commerce revolution is simply a result of businesses exploiting the increase in efficiency of using the web over traditional media like paper and the phone.
Stylesheets are an example of this increase in efficiency: they preserve your investment in design, and this is work you can't afford to throw away and re-create time after time. Re-use is more than just a good idea: it's a survival tactic.
This is where XML comes in. You see, it's not just that being linked to the community is critical and you can't afford not to use stylesheets: unless you're doing the most mundane tasks, you probably can't afford to force-fit your information into HTML and sift it back out again all the time.
XML is the evolutionary successor to HTML, in a "less is more" sort of way. If you're thinking that XML is all the stuff from HTML plus a few more things, think again. It's the same pointy-brackets, tags, and attributes, but when it comes to tag names, the slate is wiped clean. It's like taking the training wheels off.
That can be a little scary. Until you get the hang of it: structured documents. Then it sets you free!
That's where this book comes in.
XML isn't really new technology--it's based on SGML and similar systems that date back to the 1960s. These systems have always been very powerful, but they have also been costly. So they were only worth the trouble for projects like aircraft manuals. But as the world goes digital, almost everybody is taking on information management tasks nearly the size of an aircraft manual. And XML is simpler--and cheaper--because it benefits from all this experience: the parts of SGML that didn't prove critical just aren't in XML at all!
XML is just the right tool for modern information management. It's been in the shop for years and years in one form or another, but now it's hitting the Web scene in force. I hope you learn to use this tool like a pro.
W3C Architecture Domain Lead