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Re: Fw: W3C-transformation language petition

Subject: Re: Fw: W3C-transformation language petition
From: Guy_Murphy@xxxxxxxxxx
Date: Tue, 2 Mar 1999 17:16:29 +0000

Hi Oren.

You're right, it probably isn't productive to get into semantic picking
over the word styling. I do however think is valid to take issue with FOs
being refered to as the "styling" portion of XSL.

So moving on from that, we come to should we persue FOs, or simply move
forward with CSS?

It's only a matter of my own opinion, but I think that XSL FOs cast adrift
by themselves will ensure that we never get to find out :)

But moving on as you suggest to more technical considerations.

XML + CSS allows us relatively rich expression of formatting, and if CSS is
extended, this could become extremely rich. This does two things however,
it encumbers lower-end authors that might have regarded CSS as a
lightweight alternative to XSL FOs with an equally heavy CSS spec. I
personally think there is room for a heavy-weight and a lightweight in the
stylesheet world, and I think it would have helped the broad development
community to have a choice here. Peronaly I am an advocate of CSS, as an
epediant easy to use language, and XSL FOs as the build anythng

The second things we loose when we loose XSL FOs are the basic semantics of
formatting. Unlike CSS, XSL gives us not just the formatting properties,
but the basic formatting objects. We are left then either with a
free-for-all, with no common conveyance of intent, or the pinning of CSS on
existing XML applications that may or maynot bear any relationship
semantically with generic formatting.

One interesting issue raised in the current draft is... "XSL should support
interaction with structured information, as well as presentation of it. ".

Now as yet there has been little examination of the role XSL has (or maybe
hasn't) to play alongside XLink. I believe that presentation of navigable
relationships is something that should involve XSL, and that it involves
both transformation and formatting. I'm not sure if it's fair, or
beneficial to drag CSS off down that avenue.

And then there are issues such as transclusion or simple data aggregation.
We can look at ways of expressing such things with FOs, but such expression
without recourse to basic building blocks becomes increasingly difficult in

I think both these issues warrant a close look as they relate to XML
styling or indeed document construction. If we are simply rendering a
document for print, this isn't much of an issue beyond a desire for rich
visual formatting. If however we are presenting a navigable document in a
user agent then we are in the business of document construction and must be
able to address link relationships within that construction. I don't think
CSS is about to do that for us, and I'm really not sure it should be asked

I said before that all CSS really was was a formatting language. I'll risk
my arm and go a step further saying that all CSS is really is a set of
farmatting parameters :)

Again I'm not knocking CSS. Given a certain set of design considerations
I'd be a strong advocate of CSS, and my hope is that both CSS and XSL
flourish in the market-place. It's just I don't see CSS as likely to become
the complete XML styling solution.

In terms of Web design, XML introduces a new paradigm in document
construction, and it's important that we have the tools in the form of rich
languages to describe XML document construction, and more importantly that
are designed to work as part of a cohesive whole.

By designing XSL FOs from the ground up we can ensure that they fit in well
with other XML related languages.

The XSL FOs are probably the throniest part of the whole XML pantheon as
they require considerable effort on the part of the browser manufacturers
to impliment. Given past experience with the two companies on which most of
the WWW rely to view content, namely Microsoft and Netscape, it would
appear that their path has been the one of least resistence. It is for this
reason that I fear that if we give them an oppertunity to remove the thorn
of rendered XSL FOs from the side of XML, we are likely to be looking at
CSS formatting parameters for a very long time.


xsl-list@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx on 03/02/99 11:45:52 PM

To:   xsl-list@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
cc:    (bcc: Guy Murphy/UK/MAID)
Subject:  Fw: W3C-transformation language petition

Guy_Murphy@xxxxxxxxxx wrote:
>The FOs are formatting not styling, so XSL has transformation and

Right on.
>I continue to maintian that styling *is* transformation and formatting,
>that the two parts are therefore requesite for a styling language
>You seem to be using the likes of CSS as the yardstick for what a style
>language is. I'd suggest that such is a poor measurment as IMHO CSS is
>*not* a style language but a formatting language.
Is it really benefitial to argue about what the meaning of the word
"styling" is this week? We'd end up quoting from the Oxford English
dictionary, and what good would that do?
Instead, we should worry about the right way to structure XML application
with graphical display. Should we use the XSL/FO approach or the CSS
approach (possibly enhanced by "XTL")? The W3C hasn't decided, otherwise it
wouldn't be promoting both XSL and CSS.
It seems as though the W3C has decided instead to let both approaches
compete in the marketplace, and presumably in a year or two it would become
clear which one wins. At which point the W3C will update its standards to
reflect the situation. It isn't as if this hasn't happened before.
I'm not sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, we might get a better
standard in a few years. On the other hand, we face an increased risk that
systems implemented today might have to be reworked if they bet on the
What I'd _really_ like is for the W3C to make some sort of an official
reference to this issue and clear up what their position is. So far, we are
forced to second guess their moves - and given they are promoting both
approaches at once, this doesn't work too well.
>I further believe that if we weaken the unified nature of XSL as a styling
>language we let Microsoft and Netscape off the hook, and all we are ever
>likely to see is XML and CSS for formatting.

It is just to be expected - the W3C is letting the commercial companies to
make its decisions for it, so they do. What makes it ironic is that the
companies have a lot of say within the W3C. It would seem simpler for them
to simply sway the W3C to their point of view. Go figure. I'm sure there is
an reasonable explanation at some level :-)
>For the CSS advocate this might be an attractive prospect, and they need
>not knock the aspirations of the XSL advocate as they already have
>For those however, that are hoping that we might one day see the Web used
>as a rich media delivery and navigation mechanism, irrespective of voice,
>print or screen utilisation, CSS cannot be seen to be up to the job for
>styling. We must therefore push for actualisation of a complete XSL
>solution for XML styling.

I have still not seen any technical reasons as to why the CSS approach is
inferior to the XSL one. It is obvious that any functionality possible with
FOs is also possible using attached "style" attributes to arbitrary XML
elements. The only problem is that CSS does not provide the full set of
attributes necessary. So, in case the above scenario does materialize,
attributs would have to be added. CSS isn't _necessarily_ the disaster the
current implementations make it to be.
And, of course, the syntax of CSS should be replaced by an XML compliant
Have fun,
    Oren Ben-Kiki

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