Re: Frame&SGML: looking for opinions of current users

Subject: Re: Frame&SGML: looking for opinions of current users
From: Chris <cud -at- telecable -dot- es>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 11 Sep 2002 09:56:29 +0200

A few comments - I've been using Maker+SGML pretty much since the first version (FrameBuilder). Obviously, I'm happy with it - I make a living writing with it and programming the API, and I have a long relationship with the product. Consider that a disclaimer. Comments below:

Bruce wrote:

Janis Greenberg wrote:

I'm curious to know how people who have been using Frame&SGML for a while feel about it.

I've had it for about four months. My two largest complaints:

- To change from regular FrameMaker to SGML or back again, you have to change the setting, then exit the program. I suppose this setup speeds the startup, but it's a nuisance if the interface you last used isn't the one you want when you start FrameMaker. It seems incredibly clumsy to me.

Consider this a vast improvement over 6.0 and earlier. With those versions you have to own a separate product to switch from one to the other. GIven the typical purchase cycle, cost, installation, etc. I presume switching the preference is simpler and quicker. Also, since much of the structure functionality is implemented via dlls (Win), clients (Unix), or plugins (Mac), the only way to load those things is at startup - so to load the capability into the product you need to restart.

That said, I want to point out that the structure/SGML/XML capability is a strict superset of the unstructured product. What that means is, you have no *need* to switch to the unstructured mode - ever. If you want to edit an unstructured document, just edit an unstructured document. (Note that opening a structured doc in unstructured Maker will strip the structure data out of it on SAVE.) The main difference between the two modes that you would notice as a user is in the U/I - fewer buttons, windows, and commands in the unstructured mode. If that noise doesn't bother you, there's no need to switch back and forth - just keep it in Structured mode. That's what I do, and I've been working with Maker+SGML for a long time - as a writer nearly all of my clients get unstructured documents. No big deal.

- There's no DocBook support built-in. Since DocBook is probably the most thorough and most complete DTD being used, support would be very useful. I suppose you could cobble together a document that would be DocBook compatible, but I admit I haven't done so yet.

Well, there is what's called a DocBook Starter Kit, and it supports a subset of the DTD. Since DocBook is probably the most thorough and most complete DTD in use, virtually nobody has an application that makes use of the entire DTD. Something to bear in mind - real-world SGML applications invariably involve customization to implement specific features of the DTD. This is true for the other popular, industrial-strength SGML/XML products as well as for FrameMaker. SGML has an inherent tendency toward vertical application and there's no getting around that. So it is with DocBook - a *complete* implementation of DocBook for FrameMaker would be prohibitively expensive, and it would also be prohibitively cumbersome for the user - or so the theory goes. The theory states that users, given *complete* support, would get into customizing it to reduce some of the "features". Also, I'm not sure of this, but DocBook may utilize some aspects of SGML that Maker can't support... But we're talking about pretty esoteric stuff here.

Anyway, Maker 7 ships with starter kits for DocBook - SGML and XML flavors. You can establish structure applications for them and make something reasonable happen. Check out the docs to see what is supported.

On the plus side, if you've never worked with SGML or XML, both the program and the manual would probably be a good introduction. Most of the available documentation on markup languages is formidably poor.

My experience with the FrameMaker product is that it's solid and it can do pretty much whatever you want. It involves mapping from SGML/XML to the FrameMaker document model, so some things are lost in the translation. For example, tables within tables can't happen in Maker, but they're a part of CALS tables. Also, Maker guarantees unique ID values on a per-document basis (per-book to??? I forget at the moment), but that's all. If you're editing SGML fragments in a doc mgmt system, you need external processing to manage the IDs or else you'll wind up with broken xrefs. So there are things of that nature that must be worked around. But in general I believe the product is good for paginating and editing what is ultimately SGML or XML. And from there you can convert to PDF or HTML+ CSS - or use 3rd-party products to get WinHelp, HTML Help, etc.

Hope this helps.

Chris Despopoulos, maker of CudSpan Freeware...
Plugins to Enhance FrameMaker & FrameMaker+SGML
cud -at- telecable -dot- es

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