DocBook [was Re: [Perl] Designing the Ultimate Presentation Tool]

Reuven M. Lerner reuven at
Wed Nov 13 00:51:38 PST 2002

>>>>> "Shlomi" == Shlomi Fish <shlomif at> writes:

    Shlomi> The problem with it is that it is very verbose. Very, very
    Shlomi> verbose. When writing DocBook documents I could die
    Shlomi> whenever I have to write <listitem>...</listitem>. 

So you're telling me that because you want to type <li> </li> and not
<listitem> </listitem>, you're going to create a whole new document
formatting and presentation system?  It seems to me that you would do
well to simply create a set of DocBook macros.  Or better yet, use or
customize an Emacs mode that will perform the expansions for you.  Or
even better, use Emacs PSGML mode, which performs these sorts of
completions for you.

I've read Paul Graham's article on brevity before.  Brevity is good,
but maintainability is better.

    Shlomi> I think HTML with CSS if it's well-formed can be
    Shlomi> translated to DocBook quite easily, using an XSL
    Shlomi> stylesheet or something like that.

I'm glad that you think it's so easy; the dearth of high-quality tools
to do this supposedly simple task speaks for itself, I believe.

Unfortunately, HTML+CSS is less (semantically) expressive than
DocBook.  And there aren't any standards for translating in that
direction, because there's so much potential ambiguity.

    Shlomi> I prefer to use HTML for my tools because it is much more
    Shlomi> brief and so more environmentally friendly, and hackers
    Shlomi> would like it better.

As I indicated above -- brevity is nice, but it's far from the only
thing.  I'm not sure what you mean by "more environmentally friendly."
And an awful lot of hackers I respect (including many O'Reilly
authors) are using DocBook, because it gives them the flexibility they
need to turn things into multiple formats.

Look, I wrote Core Perl in LaTeX.  One of my (so-called) editors
couldn't read LaTeX, so he needed it translated into RTF or HTML.  If
I had used DocBook, everything would have been a snap.  But I used
LaTeX, which meant that I used latex2html, which was mediocre at best.
This doesn't mean that LaTeX or HTML is inherently good or bad.  It
does, however, mean that each format has a role to play, and trying to
use the format for too much will eventually come around and bite you.

By the way, Tzafrir's comment about DocBook conversion programs not
supporting Hebrew is surprising, enlightening, and disturbing.  Is
there any chance that the situation can be remedied in the near


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