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Scroll converts wiki to DocBook and PDF

K15t Software have just announced release 1.0 of Scroll, a Confluence plugin that converts wiki documentation to DocBook and PDF. I’ve been interested in this project since the early beta days and I’m excited for the K15t guys about the functionality Scroll offers already and about their plans for even more awesome developments.

First things first: You’re probably wondering why they’re called “K15t Software” 😉 It’s because one of the developers and company founders is Stefan Kleineikenscheidt. I guess that most people, like me, go cross-eyed upon encountering his surname. So he uses “K15t”, in the proud tradition of “i18n” and other such abbreviations. Another K15t Software developer is Tobias Anstett, fondly known as “t11t”. During Scroll’s beta period we’ve had some good conversations via Twitter, blogs, video conferencing and email.

History in the making

The guys founded K15t Software as a company just a few weeks ago. If you’re a technical writer, you’ll like their mission statement:

“K15t Software is a small development shop from Stuttgart, Germany. Its mission is to build useful software products with the focus on tools for wiki-based documentation.”

It all started five years ago, when Stefan lodged a request for a DocBook export from Confluence wiki. The request is on the Atlassian JIRA site — CONF-762. A DocBook exporter is not on the roadmap for core Confluence, so Stefan and the team decided to build one as a plugin. And the rest is history! Well, it’s the future too, because K15t plan to keep adding features to Scroll.

How does Scroll work?

It’s a plugin (add-on) to Confluence. If you have administrator permissions on your Confluence site, you can install the plugin as described in the Scroll Installation Guide.

Once it’s installed, the “Scroll Wiki Exporter” option will appear in your Confluence menu. Here’s a screenshot of the option in Confluence 2.10. I’m on a wiki page called the “Crowd User Guide” and have opened the “Tools” menu on the right:

Scroll converts wiki to DocBook and PDF

Scroll converts wiki to DocBook and PDF

When you choose the “Scroll Wiki Exporter” option, you get a screen with some tabs where you can choose either PDF or DocBook output and set some formatting options. On the “Document Information” tab you can set the document title, author and version. Scroll will provide default values based on the wiki page, but you can change them:

Scroll converts wiki to DocBook and PDF

Scroll converts wiki to DocBook and PDF

The “Page Tree” tab shows you a hierarchical view of the pages you are about to export. The top level of the tree is always the page you were on when you clicked the “Scroll Wiki Exporter” option. The export will include that page plus all its sub-pages and their sub-pages etc. At the moment, “Page Tree” tab is view only. Scroll may allow re-ordering in a future release.

Next is the “Formatting” tab. Here’s where you choose either PDF or DocBook. If you choose PDF, you can select a theme, language, etc. Scroll 1.0 has two themes available. In future releases, K15t Software plan to provide more themes and also more options for customisation.

Scroll converts wiki to DocBook and PDF

Scroll converts wiki to DocBook and PDF

The Scroll documentation tells you more about the formatting options.

On the “Advanced” tab, you can tell Scroll what to do if it encounters some wiki markup or macros that it doesn’t recognise.

Scroll exports wiki to DocBook and PDF

Scroll exports wiki to DocBook and PDF

When you’re ready, you kick off the export. Scroll will show its progress and then present you with a file for downloading.

Scroll exports wiki to DocBook and PDF

Scroll exports wiki to DocBook and PDF

If you chose to export as PDF, the output will be a PDF file. If you chose DocBook, it will be a zip file containing the DocBook 5 XML and all images and other attachments.

Some comments from me

I’ve really enjoyed my contact with Tobias and K15t. They’re passionate about their software, passionate about Confluence wiki, and keen to hear feedback. Here are some useful titbits from my experimenting with Scroll:

  • Note the {scroll-ignore} macro. You can put it onto your wiki page to tell Scroll not to export a particular chunk of text/content.
  • Scroll supports a number of wiki markup elements and macros. The Scroll Authoring Guide tells you how to write your text for best Scroll results.
  • Scroll exports DocBook version 5.0.
  • The “Scroll Quick Help” tips on the right of the export screens (see above) are useful and concise.
  • It’s really useful to be able to determine error handling, telling Scroll what to do when it encounters some wiki markup or a macro that it doesn’t know what to do with. See the “Advanced” tab described above.
  • In the PDF export, the “Simple Documentation” theme is neat and attractive.
  • For PDF, Scroll 1.0 has two themes available. In future releases, K15t Software plan to provide more themes and also more options for customisation. They’re also planning to allow pluggable themes, so that developers can create their own themes for Scroll.
  • I’ve suggested an addition to the Scroll documentation, to provide more information about the DocBook XML produced. The Scroll team have added this to their “to do” list.
  • The section on nesting of headings in the Scroll documentation explains why your heading levels may sometimes be different to what you expect.

Some comments from Giles

Giles Gaskell is a technical writer and colleague at Atlassian. He’s had extensive experience with DocBook, so he’s very interested in the Scroll plugin for Confluence too and I’ve been delighted to have his help with the plugin analysis. Here are Giles’s comments:

  • I really like the XML indenting that Scroll generates. It makes the XML output very readable via a standard text editor. I’ve worked with several XML editors in the past that force you to use their products to read/edit your XML content, since they either implement their own strange XML indenting or remove all white space > 1 character in length, in their XML output files.
  • It’s great that the version of DocBook XML exported by Scroll is 5.0. There are several processing advantages in DocBook XML 5.0 (via the RELAX NG schema) over what’s available in previous versions of DocBook XML (which are based on DTD schema only). Furthermore, it seems that RELAX NG is the way DocBook XML processing is headed.
  • I validated both DocBook XML exports using my own installation of jEdit and both were without any errors 🙂
  • Scroll does not add a document type declaration at the top of the XML output. It seems that DocBook XML 5.0 files which make use of RELAX NG-based processors typically do not possess a document type declaration. Likewise, it seems that DocBook XML 5.0 output without a document type declaration can only be processed by tools which are RELAX NG-compliant. Hence, it might be useful to have an option in the Scroll Wiki Exporter to add a document type declaration to the XML output, so that XML processing tools which verify XML against DTDs only can process these exports. [Giles would be very interested to hear any comments on this point from other DocBook users.]
  • It might also be worth providing an option to choose the version of DocBook XML exported — 4.0, 4.5 or 5.0. However, k15t might consider conducting a brief feasibility study on this first as I suspect integrating this feature would require a fair bit of work and some understanding about the differences between each version of DocBook. The main area of demand for this feature would be customers who have an existing/legacy tool setup that manipulates DocBook XML 4.x content, but do not have resources to upgrade their entire system to DocBook XML 5.0. DocBook XML 5.0 was only officially released in January 2008, so I suspect many DocBook XML customers would still be using DocBook XML 4.x.
  • Regarding the use of the <article> root element as opposed to <book> in the DocBook XML output: I believe this is an advantage, as it gives the author more flexibility to structure their books. The <book> element encapsulates information about a book’s content at a higher level than what is contained within an <article>. For example, an author may want to export multiple DocBook <article>s from a Confluence installation. These might be sourced from a variety of Confluence spaces or subtrees. They might then wish to combine these exported DocBook XML <article>s into a single DocBook <book>, using their own DocBook XML editor. If Scroll exported to a DocBook <book>, this would not be possible without additional XML processing.

Giles is also discussing a couple of minor points about the DocBook XML, such as the fact that each <link> element defines its own xlink namespace, and the production of the <?linebreak?> processing instructions.

Try it out yourself

You can either download the plugin for evaluation from the K15t Software site and try it on your own Confluence wiki, or you can use their demo Confluence site to see the pages already there, create your own pages, and then export them to DocBook or PDF. Awesome!

That’s all folks

Both Giles and I enjoy working with the K15t Software guys. They’re very quick to respond to feedback and I’m sure they’d be delighted for more input from other technical writers. 🙂

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