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SGML Europe 97

by Dianne Kennedy

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The Next Decade — Pushing the Envelope

Ten years ago, in 1987, SGML Europe was held in Spain. The Torremolinos meeting was attended by 44 SGML pioneers. This year, in Barcelona, Spain was once again host to SGML Europe. And what changes have taken place! Attendance was 12 times larger. More than 550 people attended this year's conference. The conference has grown from 3 days, 1 tutorial and a single presentation track to 5 days, including 4 concurrent presentation tracks and 9 tutorials. While the focus in 1987 was strictly on SGML, in 1997 we have SGML, HyTime, DSSSL, HTML and XML! In addition, we have a host of industry SGML standards such as HL7 SGML (health), SAE J2008 (automotive), ATA Spec 2100 (airlines), and ISO 12083 (journals and books). And this year, for the first time, SGML Europe was co-sponsored by GCA and SGML Open.

A number of activities were held in conjunction with SGML Europe 1997. In the week preceding the conference, GCA sponsored the meeting of ISO WG8 which examined 8879 in light of emerging XML requirements. Participants worked long hours to provide updates to the standard which have long been awaited. This work was critical to keeping SGML compatible with XML and the W3C initiatives. In keeping with its educational mission, GCA sponsored a number of tutorials given by industry experts in the two days preceding the conference. Tutorials included an Introduction to DSSSL by Sharon Adler and Anders Berglund, Eliot Kimber's HyTime Tutorial, and an Introduction to XML by Tim Bray. On Monday, May 12, GCA sponsored an ad hoc meeting of ISO 12083. During this meeting, coordination of ISO 12083 math with the W3C Web Math activities were discussed. In addition, an agenda items for the formal ISO 12093 meeting to be held in conjunction with SGML 97 was drafted. Other activities sponsored by GCA in conjunction with this conference included the International SGML Users Group (ISUG) and GCA's Information Technologies members meeting. A meeting of SGML Open followed the conference on Friday.

Crystal Ball Panel

The conference began with a welcome by Norman Scharpf, president of GCA, and introduction of Pam Gennusa, the conference chair. Following the welcome, Ms. Gennusa introduced the Crystal Ball Panel. This panel consisted of a group of industry experts who were asked to make predictions as to what we might expect in the next 3-5 years.

Conference Overview

This year SGML Europe offered 4 concurrent conference sessions. In each time slot at least one session of Case Studies was offered. Case studies focused on conversion, cutting edge technologies, military applications, manufacturing and corporate publishing, and commercial publishing. Attendees found these sessions, which provided first-hand experience and an opportunity to learn from other users, to be most valuable. For many the choice as to which session to attend was quite difficult.

Other concurrent sessions included a focus on business issues surrounding SGML implementations, XML, HTML, and the Web, Pros and Cons of using Industry Standard DTDs, Issues with Authoring, Managing Hyperlinks, and with Data Modeling. Of course a Techie to Techie session was included as well.


On Wednesday evening, GCA sponsored a meeting of its Information Technologies membership. Information Technologies is one of two GCA Tracks. IT focuses on information technologies and publishing, whether it be for print, electronic, or the Web. At the meeting IT members were welcomed. Activities supported by GCA IT were highlighted. As has been its tradition, GCA actively sponsors the development of standards which directly benefit all information providers. GCA/IT's new tag line "Fostering SGML Since Day One" is indicative of the role GCA has played in our industry. It is through the support of its membership that GCA has been able to continue this vital work. Currently GCA is sponsoring ongoing work of WG8 (SGML, DSSSL, and HyTime), HL7 SGML (health industry) and ISO 12083 (journal and book publishing). GCA has just joined W3C to provide its membership with input into the development of Web standards. GCA announced the initiation of new member benefits and solicited input from those in attendance. New GCA benefits under consideration include the establishment of a members-only Web services including a GCA/IT newsgroup, a weekly GCA Q/A Chat Room, a GCA Talent Bank and employment posting service and special member-only events. Of course the current conference and publication discounts continue to be offered as another benefit of membership. GCA encourages all organizations that have a vested interest in SGML and related publishing technologies to join GCA/IT to support the work of GCA and gain benefits of membership.

Make Room for XML

If there was a star of this year's conference, it was XML. During the closing keynote of SGML Europe '96, Tim Bray challenged the industry to create a smaller, sleeker, easy-to-use version of SGML. Remarkably, less than one year later, W3C has approved just such a version of SGML known to us all as Extensible Markup Language (XML). With stated public support for XML by both MicroSoft and NetScape, SGML is on the verge of becoming the high-end business application language of the Web. Sessions which focused on XML and Web publishing were heavily attended. Special sessions were held to enable vendors to discuss XML Tools in Development. Tools from Inso, Fujitsu, Rivcom, Grif, and AIS were featured as well as technology being developed by Tim Bray, Norbert Mikula, Peter Murray-Rust, and Henry Thompson were discussed and demonstrated. Attendance surprisingly surpassed the capacity of the theater space leaving some conference attendees trying to listen in from the hallways.

Updating the SGML Standard

Another well attended session was presented by Charles Goldfarb, Lynne Price, and Dave Peterson. This session focused on the upcoming changes to the SGML standard, itself. According to Dr. Goldfarb, ISO 8879 has undergone a clause-by-clause review. Updates to the standard will leave all existing data safe, but will require updates to tools. So those of us that have been creating valid SGML data over the past 10 years will still have valid SGML data following the updates to ISO 12083. However, if we want to take advantage of the updates, we need tools which have been updated as well.

One of the significant extensions we will see in the standard is increased support for languages. Currently there is a language bias which must be overcome. A number of mechanisms will be set into the standard to correct this oversight. Specification of more than one language, provisions for alternate concrete syntaxes, and extended naming rules will work together to make SGML an truly international standard.

A change in the standard that many of us have asked for is the ability to have overlapping attribute values. Currently an element cannot have attributes which have the same literal values. In the future this will be allowed as long as minimization is not in conflict. Another change in attributes is a new ability to specify multiple attribute lists for the same element. The ability to initialize #CURRENT in the DTD rather than in the document is being considered along with more ways to control the use of Marked Sections. And ID/IDREF will be extended to provide functionality not only within a document but across documents. These and other proposals can be found on the Web at http://www.ornl.gov/sgml/wg8/docs/index.htm.

Closing Keynote

Eliot Kimber presented the closing keynote. Kimber began with a review of the year in SGML. Not only has the community delivered the smaller, sleeker, and more usable form of SGML but the Core Addendum of HyTime is complete! And with MicroSoft and NetScape supporting XML we are quickly moving into a different age. Kimber predicts even more radical change over the next year and points out that that change is now possible because of the new formalism in the SGML family of standards. In particular, the formalism of property sets and groves within DSSSL and HyTime mean that we are finally able to codify the results of parsing a document. This enables precise addressing, the development of common access APIs, and enables us to create different views of a document without the conflicts that exist today. The speaker closed SGML Europe '97 with the following challenge to us all:

  • Improve our Standards
  • Lower the cost of Tools while increasing functionality
  • Lower the cost of learning while providing better training

    To quote Eliot Kimber; "People need technology. Technology works. People will come. Don't worry."

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