11 February 2008

XML People: Tim B on TimBL

Here's a rather wonderful document by Tim Bray, one of the key people in the XML world, and someone who evidently knows everyone else there:

XML is ten years old today. It feels like yesterday, or a lifetime. I wrote this that year (1998). It’s really long.

It's also really good for its witty pen portraits of XML notables. Here's a sample: Tim B on TimBL:

TimBL is thin, pale, and twitchy, a well-bred British baby-boomer who circumlocutes and temporizes and gets to the point slowly. Englishly, he deplores confrontation and can find a way to paint any blood-feud in the colours of unfortunate misunderstanding. His publications suggest strong idealism, an overriding vision of the future of information space. His detractors say he’s a good second-rate programmer who was at the right place at the right time and got lucky. The McArthur foundation says he’s a genius. I can’t figure out what he’s getting at half the time, or why he does things, but I’ve known a couple of real geniuses and that’s not necessarily a symptom.

However, I take exception to that idea of TimBL being "a good second-rate programmer who was at the right place at the right time and got lucky." Not so much because it's insulting Sir Tim, but because I think it misses the point entirely. Like RMS's, TimBL's greatest contribution is not actually technical: it is ethical.

Had he not put his code into the public domain - after briefly flirting with the idea of licensing it under the GNU GPL - the Web would not have become the greatest invention of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. It is for his inspired altruism that we salute Sir Tim - not for anything so trivial as a markup language.

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