Re: Is Anyone Using XML for single sourcing help and docs?

Subject: Re: Is Anyone Using XML for single sourcing help and docs?
From: "Tim Altom" <taltom -at- simplywritten -dot- com>
To: "Ginger Moskowitz" <ginger -at- aatech -dot- com>, "TechDoc List" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 22 Jan 2000 07:37:27 -0500

Well, right now XML *is* complicated, technical and harder to implement than
HTML. There's no way to toss a tool at your problem and make it vanish.

Any SGML tool can handle XML. Or almost any. Many still require a DTD, which
XML doesn't require. You can do well-formed XML and get by. But doing doc
XML without a DTD is, in my view, nearly worthless except for the
questionable benefit of being in XML instead of HTML. From my viewpoint, one
of the major benefits of going to SGML/XML is that you can now define your
manual structure in advance. If you're not in the mood to be structured,
don't bother with XML.

Here's one scenario: Frame +SGML as the tool. Devise a DTD (which we already
have for Clustar, saving us a TON of time). The DTD keeps everybody on track
and honest, and permits you to outsource with enormous confidence. It keeps
editing down tremendously. This is where most people will hit the rocks with
XML. Rather than bite a very big bullet and yield to the need for structured
doc, most people are likely to sigh and just trail along doing manuals with
little discernible structure, but possible with well-formed XML. So what if
all your tags open and close? You haven't given yourself any significant
advantage, but a whole lot more work.

You do, of course, have to link all those tags to formatting within Frame,
which is done in the EDD. (So many TLAs, so little time!). You can then
output as XML for viewing directly in an XML UA (User Agent for the
uninitiated) like IE 5. And, of course, with a suitable CSS or XSL to
display it properly.

Or you can output as something else from Frame (usually a MIF) and then
crank through Quadralay, MIF2GO, or something else to get HTML help ,
WinHelp, et al. You can also get really tricky by exporting from Frame +
SGML as XML, running the XML through an XSLT stylesheet (kids, don't try
this at home) and converting it thereby into any number of other documents,
complete with style information. Then view the XML in a UA.

It all works, but it ain't kid stuff. It does, however, give you enormous
growth room, because to achieve the same thing with manual labor and older
formats would take at least two more staff members if you're producing doc
every day.

All of this does, at minimum, produce an environment where you write once
and use many places, which is the heart and soul of single sourcing. But
it's our view here at Simply Written that without a defined structure in
your single sourcing effort that everybody sticks to, you're likely to be
spinning your wheels in technological goo, going nowhere and wondering why.

Tim Altom
Simply Written, Inc.
Featuring FrameMaker and the Clustar Method(TM)
"Better communication is a service to mankind."

> I have looked up XML info on the web and found it complicated and
> I don't want to read lengthy comparisons of Html, sgml, and xml; I just
> to know what tools are out there to do the job, how it's done, and whether
> it's feasible to consider this a single source option either now or in the
> future.

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