Re: Help with Docbook

Subject: Re: Help with Docbook
From: eric -dot- dunn -at- ca -dot- transport -dot- bombardier -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 24 Jul 2003 13:54:44 -0400

Chris Gooch <chris -dot- gooch -at- lightworkdesign -dot- com> wrote on 07/24/2003 01:17:40

> but... isn't the advantage that you can make the DTD / Schema
> available to anyone you want to be able to talk to?

> (I understand the point that XML is not a language, but a metalanguage;
> but that's precisely its usefulness isn't it?)

Perhaps the underlying point that is trying to expressed is that once you
adopt DocBook, DITA, or anything else you've adopted a specific language.

You start with something open and extensible. An alphabet, outlines for
grammar and structure rules, basic interpretation and usage guidelines,
pronunciation, etcetera. In other words, XML.

You then create a language. French, English, Spanish, Italian, German, or
even Esperanto. These languages are still extensible. This was pointed out
in an earlier post. You can add and subtract words. But common usage
severely limits how much you can change and at what rate. Changes that are
made, often remain local dialects that are incomprehensible even to
others, who for all intents and purposes, are using and communicating in
the same language. And like XML, you can change the grammar rules or even
the alphabet as well.

Like XML schemas, DTDs, and all, you can provide others without your
language knowledge dictionaries and manuals and guides so they can
communicate with you. Doesn't mean its going to be easy. Indeed, much like
DocBook, English or French are structured, but in general very fast and
loose with many rules to accommodate as many conceivable and inconceivable
communication situations as possible.

So, once you commit to a specific dialect and/or specialised extension
(say medical terms)of English, communication is really only straight
forward with other users of the same dialect and specialised extension.
Much like XML, since languages often share a common base, some words and
constructs sound familiar and are even recognisable. But it equates to far
less than complete and efficient communication. However, like languages,
some of the things that seem familiar between two XML instances might not
even have anything to do each other.

So an XML based instance like a language certainly sets the grounds for
improved communication between those using the same instance/language. But
it's not the magic bullet for universal communication that the hype makes
it out to be. Not unless some giant unwieldy language (DocBook/English)
become a defacto standard with the enormous varied support required to
process all variations or some stilted, constraining, virtually dead
language is forced as a standard (Esperanto).

Even steering this discussion back to software and FrameMaker and Word
shows the silliness of much of the HYPE. FrameMaker MIF could very easily
be made into XML. All you have to do is re-express the MIF rules as a DTD
and provide XML compliant tags. If this was done, FM could be said to
produce XML. Word could do something similar with RTF.

The XML-RTF is not going to be any more recognisable to XML-MIF FrameMaker
and vice-versa. Once you develop the conversion between the two XML
instances, the model differences between the rendering engines FM/Word are
still going to have the same problems that they had before they were both
producing XML.

The only difference in the truly XML world as opposed to the quasi XML
world of XML-RTF and XML-MIF is that the quasi world is far simpler. There
are only two instances being considered and only two rendering engines. In
the real XML world, there are an infinite number of XML instances and
numerous rendering/interpretation engines.

It's easy to see how XML could be used to create a standard communication
method within an organisation or community (much like a spoken language).
But the claims that it makes UNIVERSAL communication, single-sourcing,
information sharing, and all the other magic powers it's claimed to

Eric L. Dunn


sourcing tool for FrameMaker that lets you easily publish your content
online. No macro language required!

Mercer University's online MS Program in Technical Communication Management:
Preparing leaders of tomorrow's technical communication organizations today.
See or write George Hayhoe at hayhoe_g -at- mercer -dot- edu -dot-

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