STC Summit day 1 – Why not DocBook?
I’m attending STC 2012, the annual conference of the Society for Technical Communication. It’s Monday morning, the first day of general sessions. The weekend has been packed with pre-conference events and socialising too.
The first session of the morning is by Richard Hamilton of XML Press. Richard is the publisher of my book, and I’ve just met him in person for the first time. Up to now, we’ve corresponded by email, wiki and Twitter. It was great to shake his hand.
Why not DocBook?
That’s the title of Richard’s session: “Why not Docbook?” He covered the following points:
- The schema, and what’s new and what’s happening
- The tools and documentation
- The DocBook community
Discussing the schema, Richard emphasised its simplicity. As long as something is familiar and organised, it works. And DocBook is essentially that. The structure is organised around creating a book. You can also generate a number of other formats, such as slides, text, HTML, EPUB, and more.
Richard gave us an informed look into the DocBook schema and its structure. I took just a few notes:
- Using namespaces, you can embed chunks of other XML into DocBook, such as SVG and MathML. This is really powerful and useful.
- The latest version of DocBook uses the Relax NG schema language. To customise XML, you often have to do a lot of stuff. But using Relax NG in DocBook, it’s simple – just 2 lines of code.
Next Richard moved onto the tools and documentation available for DocBook, and why they are a plus point for DocBook usage. He discussed Schematron, a language for making assertions about patterns found in XML documents. For example, if you want to say that a footnote cannot contain another footnote, you would use Schematron. Most XML IDEs will apply the rules defined in a Schematron.
Another selling point of DocBook is its stylesheets. Richard recommends a book called “DocBook XSL: The Complete Guide”, by Bob Stayton.
In the third part of his presentation, Richard talked about the DocBook community. It consists of people using DocBook, and also all the people who can help out. O’Reilly Media do a lot of work in DocBook, and are doing more and more. XML Press is another publisher that uses DocBook as core to its processes. There are a number of open source projects that use DocBook.
On the support side, there are a couple of mailing lists that are very active and very well covered. For example,people will respond to questions about a particular customisation by giving a chunk of code that does the job.
In summing up, Richard says that in terms of generating different output formats, DocBook is number one. And in terms of support, you can’t do better either.
After the presentation, Richard answered a number of indepth questions from the audience. Thanks for an interesting session, Richard, and a great start toMonday at STC 2012.