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In the real world, diversity is a boon.

Andrew wrote this article for our Spring 2008 newsletter when he was a student at Diablo Valley School. Andrew graduated in 2010.

You are not an XML Engine

by Andrew

Extensible Markup Language (XML) is a document format used to store and transmit structured data. It is very popular on the web, where it is used behind the scenes to structure and style web sites. The latest versions of Open Office and Microsoft Office both use XML as their underlying file format.

That's all well and good, but what makes XML so great? Why would you use it? And what is an XML engine anyway? XML is a text file on a computer that looks like this:

<file>
this file contains text
<paragraph color="red" font="TNR">
This text is in a XML document.
Cool, isn't it?
</paragraph>
</file>

An XML engine is a program component that reads and writes XML. XML Engine vendors have already solved the problem of writing data in a logical, structured format, while the XML standard itself defines what that format should be. That is the first great thing about XML. The second great thing about XML: it is a standard. In other words, XML written by vendor A's XML engine is the same as XML written by vendor B's XML engine. That way, vendors can focus on making a faster/safer/easier-to-use engine and not on creating a better file format. Although XML engines may be different on the inside, and may be made by people as diverse as Microsoft and SomeDudeWithAComputerInHisBasement-Soft, on the outside they are all the same. They read/write the same XML as everyone else. This is a good thing for customers and is an excellent software philosophy. It applies poorly to people.

It would make my day to find out that the doodles I made with software X can be edited in software Y, and that I can just pick which ever one I like. It would not make my day to learn that, despite all the uniqueness I was born with, the skills I have are the same as those of 10,000 other people, that MegaCorp can just swap me out if they don't like me.

In the strange world of computers, diversity of file formats is a barrier to communication. When software thinks differently, it can make the user's life difficult. In the real world, diversity is a boon. Different ways of thinking help us solve problems, and a multitude of skill sets is needed for every endeavor. It is strange that we tell children that too much computer use is unhealthy, yet we school them as if they were the very computers they mustn't overuse.