Forwarded from Dr. James Mason re DSSSL

Yuri Rubinsky (
Sun, 13 Nov 94 23:09:46 EST

Dr James Mason, convenor of the international working group that created
SGML, HyTime, DSSSL and SPDL, wrote the following mail to Hakon Lie and me
and has agreed to have it re-posted to this group, FYI.


Date: Sat, 12 Nov 1994 23:15:00 -0500 (EST)
From: James D Mason <>
Subject: Style Sheets for HTML and other SGML applications

Yuri Rubinsky at SoftQuad forwarded your recent query about style sheets from
the www-html mailing list (how do I get added to it?).

I'd like to start my reply by saying that the full SGML source (with EPS
graphics) for ISO/IEC DIS 10179.2, DSSSL, is at
A PostScript rendering is on James Clark's server at

That said, I'll comment that style sheets constitute a wormhole into
unspeakable universes. People start thinking they'll just set up a little file
in SGML or something else, and soon it grows uncontrolable. My own experience
with the FOSI process in the CALS program is adequate evidence. I started the
FOSI committee just to shut up some folks who were demanding print from an
application that should have been about electronic information interchange.
They fell into the "little SGML file" hole and haven't escaped yet. I promptly
bailed out. They've kept on adding all sorts of junk to FOSIs, and the
software for interpreting FOSIs gets more complex, and people keep doing ad
hoc things in FOSIs that the mess in uncontrolable. One of my associates, who
is a planner for a major program that is stuck with FOSIs, keeps feeding me an
unending tale of woe about how things have to be patched together by hand
because FOSIs don't work.

The beta version of SoftQuad's Panorama uses "a little SGML file", but they
don't want it to stay that way. They'd rather go with DSSSL. That standard is
truly complex, but at least it has several years of thought in it. I don't
think I'd like to edit a DSSSL specification in EMACS, but that's as much a
reflection of how complex real-world documents are as it is a reflection of
how complex DSSSL is. I don't like to edit HyTime code directly either. I
don't even like to edit SGML code, and I've been doing that since 1981. We
need cheap tools to help with all such things. HTML, even at the 2.0 level is
editable in EMACS only because it's a restricted application. Moving from a
couple of dozen tags to the 100+ tags of most mature applications (and I
expect that in future versions of HTML), makes assisted editing almost
mandatory for all but masochists.

James D. Mason
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Convenor, ISO/IEC JTC1/SC18/WG8