So since I’ve been techwriting for a few months, and hating life with FrameMaker, I decided to see what open source alternatives were available out there.

The other day I happened upon DocBook. I had heard mention of it many times before but didn’t really get what it is. Here’s what it seems to be: a well defined XML schema for writing books and such. The idea behind it is to define your document semantically rather than worrying about layout and presentation. You define chapters and books and sections and paragraphs, and DocBook tools create any kind of output you want. You can include graphics and notes and warnings, footnotes, cross references and everything. Its all very exciting.

What I particularly like about it is that you can use so many existing tools. One thing I was thinking for the mozilla world was IDL / DocBook mapping. In its simplist form, you could make an IDL file generate a DocBook API reference skeleton. If you were feeling daring, you could take the JavaDoc comments out of the IDL, and dump them into the skeleton, initializing the whole skeleton.

But if the IDL changes, is there a way to keep things in sync? The problem is that after generating a skeleton, you’d want to be able to modify the XML to your heart’s content. But as long as the XML file retains a well understood structure (which DocBook has!) then you should be able to read in the IDL and the DocBook and alert the developer/writer if the docs don’t match the source. Neat.

But for now I’m going to explore some DocBook tools and see what I can make of them.

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