Thursday, July 14, 2005

Strategic retreat

Disappointingly, I'm giving up (for now) on continuing writing my thesis using open-source tools and DocBook. I still think that there are good reasons for having the source code to my thesis text encoded in an open standard language, and I do like the idea of being able to generate both pdf and xhtml from one source. The basic structures of DocBook - books, chapters, sections, paragraphs, lists, etc, all work fine. Where I ran into problems was with:

  • citations,
  • formulae and equations, and (to a lesser extent)
  • diagrams
Sure there are open-source tools that help with all of these requirements, but they just don't work well enough. Over the past many weeks, I've spent more time wrestling with getting software working, getting the right entries in my XML catalog, tweaking php files and MySQL tables, and grokking complex XSLT stylesheets than I have actually writing. So much so that it's getting quite desperate now, deadline-wise! I have to say, as well, that the default output from the DocBook stylesheets is pretty dull, so I was expecting some heavy-duty xslt hacking to get a reasonable end result anyway.

So, my plan is to stage a strategic retreat and use OfficeXP for the time being, which as drawing tools and equation editor built-in, and integrates nicely with EndNote and ProCite. Sure, professional bibliographers complain about EndNote, and doubtless it has its flaws. But right now, it's an attractive proposition for not being as much in my way as the existing crop of open-source tools.

I characterise this as a retreat, not surrender, on the basis that I expect OpenOffice to catch up with Word for equations and citations eventually. I have tried OpenOffice for this project, but it the 2.0 beta kept crashing on me and the 1.1.3 version is too primitive. In time though, I expect to be able to convert my document to an open XML standard, either DocBook or another comparable format.

I do thank those who've helped me get open-source programs working (or tried to) over the past couple of months. It's not that I don't appreciate the work and commitment that goes into open-source development, it's just that 80% working isn't enough that I can work with the tool rather than on the tool.

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