Re: XML & Technical Writers... (long)

Subject: Re: XML & Technical Writers... (long)
From: Simon North <north -at- SYNOPSYS -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 1998 09:40:08 +0001

Being the co-author of "Presenting XML", and XML chapters for
"Dynamic Web Publishing" and "HTML4 Unleashed, Professional Reference
Edition" ... as well as being a tech writer I think I can risk an
opinion on this ..... but I'll try not to repeat some of the (more
obvious) points that have already passed review (sorry, guys, I would
have responded earlier but I was offsite giving a one-day seminar on
XML in Belgium yesterday).

For 'extensible' read 'adaptable'. XML's extensibility is not
restricted to the (more obvious) point of addding element tags; XML
is far better suited than either SGML or HTML for a distributed
environment. For example, it can deal with MULTIPLE DTDs, it can
merge attribute definitions from multiple sources, it can have local
and remote DTD subsets allowing, for example, general template DTDs
with local adaptions. It understands web addresses (URLs).

Better still, XML can do translusions (think in terms of 'virtual
documents' composed from linked inclusions of other documents). Want
to make a dynamic index of a manual? create a 'hub' document that
pulls in the TITLE and AUTHOR elements from all the documents. It
goes further, links can be external to the source document (gone is
HTML's brain-dead idea of hard wiring the link into the source
document). You can link to READ-ONLY material. You can link to BLOCKS
of text, not just a simple target somewhere in the document.

On a more technical side, XML can be loosely though of as being
object-oriented SGML. The primary object in XML terms is an 'entity';
this can be a document, it can be an element, or it can be a piece of
data. Now, couple this with the DOM (document object model), XML-Data
and RDF (resource definition format), plus other efforts (XAPJ,
SAX) to define an API (application programming interface) for XML
objects and you have the basis for bringing SGML into the 21st
century (don't forget that SGML still has its roots firmly embedded
in the 1960's concepts of document/text processing --- if you
doubt this, consider the sequential processing nature that lies
at the very heart of SGML).

What does it mean for tech writers? 2 words 'the future'. In any
enviroment where computer processing (and in particular database
applications), information and the Internet meet; there is an area
where XML will excel over both HTML *and* SGML. The implications for
technical documentation should be pretty obvious, it will simply
revolutionize the way in which we publish electronically.

My ten cents.

Simon North
Senior Technical Writer
Synopsys GmbH

Disclaimer: If these were my employer's opinions, I probably be paid
a lot more than I am. ;-)

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