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Subject: Re: DOCBOOK: docbook vs latex

My employer, Progeny Linux Systems, faced this issue a couple of
years ago, and settled on DocBook.  We knew LaTeX, didn't know
DocBook, but we've been very happy with our decision.

> - latex is by far more comprehensive and better documented (of course, it's 
> been around much longer)

I've found that the web-based documentation for DocBook is
superior to that for LaTeX.  Despite years of use, I can't do
much in LaTeX without a book or two around, because I've never
found a web site that covers LaTeX to my satisfaction, whereas
DocBook is comprehensively covered by the online version of "The
Definitive Guide".

> - docbook is simpler and therefore easier to use

Easier to write, not necessarily easier to use.

* Setting up a build system for translating DocBook to other
  output formats requires either quite a bit of money for
  commercial software, or quite a bit of time for open source
  solutions.  Perhaps the time factor is true for commercial
  software as true.

* The firm structure of XML should make it easier to comprehend
  than the rather erratic syntax of LaTeX ("fragile" commands?).

> - docbook-xsl is a very flexible mechanism to generate and customize 
> html-output whereas latex2html doesn't seem to be maintained very well

XSL is indeed great.  Bewarned, however, that printed output is

* passivetex seems to be very challenging to set up, and the
  standard DocBook stylesheets don't always work well with it.

* FOP is still rather incomplete and/or buggy; I would never use
  its output, even for casual use internally.

* XEP looks very good from the evaluation version, but is quite
  expensive for commercial use.

We're sticking with DSSSL and Jadetex for now.  This means
maintaining separate stylesheets (and dealing with DSSSL, ugh).

> - docbook has some strange concepts (e.g. xrefs to a section resolving to the
> "Sexction x.y" instead of just the number, making it unflexible for no real 
> benefit)  

This can be altered via the endterm attribute to xref, but if you
want just the number, then:

The default behavior is entirely stylesheet-specific.  If you
don't like the behavior, change it, although I must admit that at
this moment I'm struggling to identify the necessary change.

> - working with large documents appears to require more thought and 
> organization with docbook than with latex

I'm not sure what you mean here.  The book structure is very
simple; including external files via entities is pretty simple.

We've been able to do things with DocBook that would be difficult
or impossible with LaTeX.  As an example, we publish periodic
newsletters that are comprised of multiple blurbs that are stored
in a database.  The blurbs use a superset of the DocBook DTD to
define tags like newsblurb and moreinfo (1 or more URLs and/or
paragraphs to be displayed at the end of the blurb).  The HTML
output is created using AxKit.

We fully expect the content markup to come in handy for searching
in the near future, but that remains a theoretical advantage

LaTeX produces very attractive printed output, and does a superb
job with mathematical constructs.  DocBook offers tremendous
power and flexibility, but does not currently compete well with
LaTeX in those areas.

John R. Daily

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