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RE: If SGML is so great...

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Gary Preckshot [mailto:garrell@inreach.com]
> Sent: Tuesday, May 02, 2000 12:15 PM
> To: LDP
> Subject: If SGML is so great...
> A lot of people say that the reason it's so good is it can
> be converted to virtually anything else. Then they launch
> into a religious war for their favorite format.

That's not the reason that "SGML is so great".  That has NOTHING to do with
it, that's just an added benefit.  Using DocBook SGML allows us to mark the
content of the document, rather than the presentation.  It allows for
intelligent searching. THAT is why "SGML is so great".

> All of this is irrelevant. If it can be converted into
> anything, then one honker of a machine (owned by an LDP
> sponsor) can take all the SGML and turn it into the format
> de jour. It's a non issue.

Conversions are just a feature, not the end goal.

> Likewise, if SGML can be translated into anything else, the
> reverse translation can be done into a subset of SGML. There
> isn't any reason for LDP to require SGML. Anything that can
> be translated into SGML should be acceptable. LDP can use
> SGML internally, but there isn't any justifiable reason for
> imposing it or DocBook on HOWTO authors. This is the year
> 2000 after all, and beloved 486s can be replaced by machines
> with 100 times the memory, disk, and speed for $1500. Just
> because some authors can't afford it is no reason to limit
> those who can and will.

That's right, there's no reason to force people to get a better computer.
That's why we should advocate markup languages, and specifically DocBook
SGML.  I can grab my Toshiba T1200, fire up Dr. Dos on it from a 720K
floppy, and write my SGML document on that 8MHz 8088, and it will be plenty
fast enough to run my text editor.  

> I'm really puzzled by the stick-in-the-mud attitude of some
> of the people on this forum. It's possible to cater to the
> people with older machines AND advance the ability of LDP to
> accommodate modern formats. All that's really necessary is

DocBook IS a modern format.  It's designed for writing technical
documentation, and it allows both vetran documentation writers and young
green ones to use the same language to describe their document.  And it's
NOT hard to learn.

> to standardize internally, and build translators to go from
> popular formats to the internal format. It's even good
> design, because if a successor to SGML comes along, the
> transition can be internal, and the author community won't

The successor to SGML is XML.  DocBook is a DTD for both.  As soon as the
tools for XML as more complete, we'll be able to change, and it will take
reading a short paper (15 minutes) to figure out what changes need to be
made for the transition.  I'm betting that scripting the change from SGML to
XML will work almost flawlessly.  

> even see it. After all, the pace of improvement in memory,
> disk, and processor speed is a factor of 2 every 18 months
> or so, and I replaced my 33 Mhz 486 three years ago with a
> 233 Mhz machine with 64 Mb of memory and (now) 60 Gb of
> disk. The cost of a similar machine is now less than $1000,
> and the cutting edge is around 800 Mhz with 128 Mb of RAM
> and 70 Gb of disk. All for about $2500. Sometimes it seems
> the LDP is replaying the IDE disk mess, fighting the wars of
> 30 years ago over issues that died 30 years ago.

Huh?  We're talking about keeping up with current technology in SGML and
XML, not with falling behind by using "word processors".  
> There really isn't any need for these irrelevant arguments.
> Sure, SGML is wonderful. But some of us just want to write a
> simple mini-HOWTO that doesn't use all the bells and
> whistles. Why should we be forced to learn yet another page

So don't use all the bells and whistles, just use the basic features of
DocBook, like the tags for paragraph, author information, abstracts,
applications, command replacment, etc.  Writing a document using markup
takes little or no more time than writing without.  If you want a What You
See Is What You Mean editor, try LyX, and read the HOWTO-HOWTO.  Mark just
about swears by LyX, I haven't tried it myself, since it only took me a
couple of minutes to get the emacs RPM installed, and only a couple of hours
to learn it well enough to use it for basic tasks.

> description language when all we want to do is write? We're
> not limited by cretaceous era 486s, and we can run
> translators with no sweat. Why not. Why should we be limited
> to the capabilities of the slowest 486 in the LDP universe?

We shouldn't, we just need to find a way for those people to process their

> If all we need is a subset of SGML produced by automatic
> translators, so be it. I'm not trying to start a flame war,
> but just trying to expand the horizons of the LDP. If LDP is
> to compete in the greater arena, it has to accommodate
> authors of diverse abilities and resources. Including those

Wait, didn't you just say we should STOP catering to the people who only
have a 486?  

> who don't care about the wonders of SGML. There's no room
> for religious arguments about which format prints the nicest
> or whatever. The objective of LDP is Linux documentation,
> not page description languages; they're only a tool.

I don't care whether or not they're impressed with what SGML can do, all
they have to do is add in a few tags that say "this" is an application, and
"that" is the authors name, and "these" form a paragraph, section, or
chapter.  It's pretty basic, barely any more complex than HTML, and
certainly a lot more powerful.  

> I'm going to look into WP9. If I never have to deal with
> SGML, it's ok with me. I don't care about it, I don't want
> to have to deal with it, and my computer is here to do the
> grunt work, not me. First there was machine language, which
> got tiresome fast. Then there was assembly language, which
> still gets tiresome. Then there was C. I was there for all
> of it. Now there are higher level languages than C. SGML is
> the assembly language of document preparation. I'd like to
> use the C of document preparation at least.

SGML is not the assembly language of documentation, it's more like the C of
documentation.  To follow your example, plain text was the machine language
of documentation, followed by HTML being the assembly language.  SGML using
DocBook is a language like C, and XML using DocBook is more like a really
high level language, which I don't have a "programming" example for.  I'm
not opposed to accepting documents in some format other than SGML, but as
someone said, we just put those documents in a pile, and they'll probably
not be as well used, or as well updated, because they don't allow the kind
of information mining that's required to find the useful documents from the
useless ones (for a given task, that is).  

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