Re: SGML - Who? and Why?

Subject: Re: SGML - Who? and Why?
From: Chet Ensign <Chet_Ensign%LDS -at- NOTES -dot- WORLDCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 4 Jul 1995 16:39:25 EDT


Some additional comments on Alexander's response.

MW> My company is considering producing all documents in SGML.
AV?> a brave step, considering the state of the art...

Not so much anymore. Over the past two years, the tools for producing SGML have
come of age dramatically. The main wp/dtp providers (Microsoft,
Novell/WordPerfect, Frame, Lotus) have produced SGML tools for their products.
The next release of WordPerfect will incorporate SGML editing directly into the
product. There are other tools coming out as well that add capabilities to
these offerings, and of course there are the editors that produce SGML

MW> 1. Which companies produce their documents in SGML?
AV> e.g. those in the defense and automobile industry.

Also the software industry, the telecommunications industry, the legal
publishing industry, state and federal governments, companies like Mobil Oil
and Shell, Caterpillar, Freightliner (well, ok, those two are sort of
automotive), several banks and securities firms, a few pharmaceutical
manufacturers... Sorry, I'm tired and I should be able to come up with more. My
point is, it is a large and growing group.

My answer to the question is that any organization that views the info in their
documents as a valuable asset and is concerned with its long term viability and
reusability is either using SGML or learning about it.

MW> 2. How did the people who had to do the work learn how to do it?
AV> That's the wrong question: You need someone, who configures all of your
AV> installation. Then that company has finished (and billed several $
AV> the author's work is quite easy.

Not necessairily. I know of companies that have done the whole thing in-house.
Some of the best SGML experts I've met were technical writers who got excited
about the possibilities for leveraging the information. These, in fact, have
been the most successful SGML systems I have seen.

AV> The greatest problem is the fact, that you
AV> have absolutely no control over the final page layout.

Not true. Page layout is a presentation issue. The essence of SGML is that you
distinguish between the structure of the info (which is expressed in your SGML
markup) and the presentation of that info (which is handled by whatever systems
you use/build to leverage that info). If your group develops a page layout
design that you want to use for your documents, then that's the presentation
that the SGML info gets when you go to paper form.

For another example, lets take the WordPerfect SGML edition, their next
release. The document that you see on screen and print out is an SGML document,
but its presentation is handled by styles. You can alter the way the page looks
by altering the way the styles look. You can also insert raw formatting, if you
want to, with the understanding that when you export the SGML, that raw
formatting will be thrown away. But you do indeed have various ways to control
the layout.

MW> 3. How long did the transition take?

Transition is a function of many variables. For example, are you going to
convert all your existing material to SGML or are you going to go SGML from
this day on? Are your information producers already used to adhering to
corporate style guidelines and other structured approaches to their work, or do
they pretty much do as they please? How big is your operation? How volatile is
your content? Depending on the answers to questions like these, and the
strategic goals you have for the SGML system, you can move in anywhere from a
few weeks to a year or more.

MW> 4. What training is available on the subject?

A lot of training is out there. If you'd like, I'll try and track down some of
the ones I know about when I get back to the office this week.

MW> 5. Do you personally recommend the SGML approach to documentation?
AV> a qualified yes for special markets.
MW> Why?

Agree. SGML is overkill if your information is of a use-once-and-throw-away
variety, or if it is primarily visual, as, for example, in advertising. If you
aren't looking to exploit the content you produce over a long-term, or if you
don't have a lot of content to work with, or if you are solely interesting in
publishing paper in one version only... SGML is not going to buy you anything
that you won't be able to do faster, easier and better with FrameMaker (to
mention just one).

If you need to produce a lot of different outputs from a common body of content
(eg, paper, electronic doc, help, HTML, etc.etc.) SGML is the right answer. If
you have a lot of redundancy in your content, and you handle it now by having
multiple copies of files floating around, and you are noticing that maintaining
those copies is becoming troublesome, SGML is the right approach. If you need
to handle documents across a network of Operating Systems and platforms, SGML
is the best solution. In other words, if platform independence, reuse, multiple
outputs, or freedom from indenture to one software manufacturer is a concern,
then you should seriously investigate an SGML-based approach.

Best regards,


Chet Ensign
Director of Electronic Documentation
Logical Design Solutions
571 Central Avenue
Murray Hill, NJ 07974 censign -at- lds -dot- com [email]
908-771-9221 [Phone] 908-771-0430 [FAX]

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