Calling All DTDs!
Wednesday, April 29, 1998 by Dave Winer.
April is drawing to a close, and what's next, May, of course.
A warning to those who don't like the touchy-feely part of DaveNet. There's little doubt that some of the feely pieces are coming soooon.
Early May is when I was born, so many years ago. I practice self-indulgence at the big holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's. But the biggest holiday of all is the one that I share with approx 1/365th of the population. Be warned. I'm probably going to share some of my truths, in a friendly way of course, sometime next week.
In the meantime, let's look at the surface, thru the lens of the software industry that provides a structure for so much learning about humans.
So much of my experience with Linux is thru the postings and emails from the Linux zealots, who remind me much of the Mac zealots who protested loudly as I and others wrote about the retreat of the Mac OS as a platform of importance under the leadership of Sculley, Spindler and Amelio. If these people really had the interests of their OS at heart, my argument goes, they'd beat me with a feather instead of throwing rocks at me. Rocks hurt but feathers are fun.
But to be fair, some of the voices, usually quieter ones, speak with respect and patience and statesmanlike behavior. I make an effort to pay more attention to these voices. For example, about a year ago, a gentle man, whose name I don't remember, sent me an email offering to come to my office and install a Linux machine, free of charge. I declined, we were in the end-game of our Windows port, heads-down, there was no time for me to learn another OS while I was already learning a new OS. But I remember the elegance of this person's pitch. It made a big impression.
About open source, I want to add that I like the idea. It's how I learned how to program, back in the 70s as a grad student at UW-Madison. I had the source to the original Unix. I was delighted with the airy open-ness of the code, how straightforward it was. It taught me how real software is built in ways that professors can't. I was the total beneficiary of open source as a young person.
I owe so much to Dennis Richie, the lead developer of Unix, for having the good sense to see that his code could be used to teach a new generation of programmers, including me, how to build clean well-engineered, straightforward stuff. When I release code I think of Richie, a man who I spoke with several times when I was younger, and feel like I'm doing my part to keep the big wheel turning.
But I ramble. I want to point you to the most elegant platform advocacy document I've ever seen, the Linux Advocacy Mini-HOWTO:
Please clear out a few minutes and read the whole thing, top to bottom. Don't skip a word. You may find, as I did, that you get a whole different idea of what Linux is about.
I wish the Mac had such a document. I wish Windows had one too, although the Windows culture, as I experience it, pretty much adopts these ideas without explicit statement. To me, it says that advocating a platform does not entitle you to use that advocacy for your own purposes. It shows that Linux is rooted in respect for other points of view.
It's an incredible example of what I mean by keeping your eye on the prize. Know what you want and get it. The core of the Linux world wants the rest of the world to respect Linux. That's the best goal. It's totally attainable.
Here's my answer. Just by asking for respect, you get it. It's automatic!
A milestone piece appeared on the InfoWorld website a few hours ago, written by Jeff Walsh who is bringing accurate and balanced reporting to the new standards for XML and net content management.
I'm quoted in the piece, thanks Jeff, but that's not why it's noteworthy.
WebDAV, which I've written about before, is important because it opens the door to managed content, and gets the toolmakers to work together instead of trying to be everything to everyone, which no one can be.
I think NetObjects, Macromedia and Adobe should be enthusiastic supporters of WebDAV because it means growth for them.
Well-run sites are the result of collaboration between writers, designers, graphic artists, and system managers. WebDAV is the first step towards standard protocols that enable collaboration over the net.
People who develop and manage web content should voice their support for WebDAV to the tools vendors, with respect of course, because it will empower them to plug in new tools without overwhelming team members with details they aren't interested in.
Writers write. Designers design. Graphics people sweat the pixels and systems people keep the whole thing flowing. That's the nirvana that WebDAV makes possible. We're enthusiastic supporters, we're implementing both sides of DAV. We hope everyone else gets on the bandwagon.
Let's have fun folks! It's a big world out there, we're all part of it.
Thanks to Lisa Rein, a friend with very strong opinions, I'm exploring XML at a deeper level, venturing into territory that used to scare me, but no longer does.
A DTD is a Document Type Definition. Without a DTD, XML information is just tagged text, with no rules about what can contain what.
It's hardly a new concept, but it is new to web content, where part of the charm of HTML is its lack of rigor, its anything-goes attitude. HTML has gotten us somewhere good, a publishing medium that's accessible to millions. It allows us to get our message thru even if we don't own a printing press or have a large editorial team or use expensive workflow and typesetting software. All those people and money and software can make things boring. Get the overhead out of the way and something interesting can happen. Anyway...
Back to DTDs. Here's an example of some simple XML text: