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What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been
Longer ago than I care to admit, I decided to do a major redesign of the site. One of the things that I remember when I first started on that journey was that I wanted to have something besides the white background that was on the old site, but I still wanted people to be able to print out the pages if they needed to (you couldn't do that with style sheets back then).
About that time, I was wandering through a book store and happened across a copy of "DocBook: The Definitive Guide" from O'Reilly. I scanned through the book and found out that it was possible, using something called "XML" to create a source document that you could magically transform into both HTML and the Adobe Acrobat format. Little did I realize at the time what a project this would turn out to be.
I dove headfirst into the world of XML, and the result is that this entire site, with only a couple of exceptions, has been generated from XML source files which I use to generate the HTML that you see with your web browser and the Acrobat files that you can either view on your computer or print out. It was a very painful learning curve, but having gone through it, I can't imagine doing a site of any size any other way now.
Although learning XML isn't easy and it's not for the faint of heart, it can be done. You can use tools that are all free and readily available to generate the source documents and the HTML and Acrobat output files. I've got a list of XML resources at the bottom of this page.
I am currently using jEdit, which is an extremely powerful text editor, to generate the XML source files.
I am lucky enough to have Adobe Photoshop for image work. It's real expensive, but worth it. There's nothing like it.
I use Xalan and the Apache FOP modules to generate the HTML and Acrobat files, repsectively.
Here is a list of links to tools that I am either using now or have used at some time or another. As much as I would like to help, I am not in a position to offer any kind of technical support or advice for any of these tools. Most of these tools are very well-suppored by both their vendors and their respective user communities. As the saying goes "Seek and Ye Shall Find".
- jEdit Editor
- The jEdit editor is a very powerful editor that I use both at home and in my work. Keep in mind that it is a text editor and not a WYSIWYG. It's just what I want and will do everything I want an editor to do, but it's a text editor.
- Before I got in the habit of using jEdit, I used XML Writer, which is an excellent, but not free, XML-oriented editor. One advantage that it has for XML authors is that it will do the XSLT transformations for you using the Microsoft XML parser that comes as part of the contemporary Windows operating system. Easy to use and reasonably priced, I recommend it highly. It costs $89.00, but you can dowload a trial version for free from their site.
- Adobe Photoshop
- Simply put, there's nothing else like it. If you've never looked at the price of Photoshop, be prepared for a shock. It may be overkill for casual users, but if you're serious about image creation and enhancement, you'll probably end up buying it sooner or later.
- JASC Paint Shop Pro
- Before I got Photoshop, I used Paint Shop Pro for a long time. It's a very good piece of software and is supported by a very active user community. It's less than a third the price of Photoshop and it's features are very comparable. You can also download a trial version for a test drive if you want.
- The GIMP
- The GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a free alternative image manipulation program. It's very powerful, but not as easy to use as either Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro. On the other hand, the price is right and it runs on any platform. You should at least give it a try. You might be pleasantly surprised at just how powerful it is.
- Apache's Xalan XSLT Transformer
- Xalan is another of the excellent and free Apache software projects. For those of you who don't know, this is the software that reads the XML source files and generates the HTML pages that are on this site.
- Apache's FOP Project
- The FOP engine is the software that reads the XML source files and creates the Acrobat files. Not for the faint of heart and definitely not for the technically challenged. On ther other hand, I didn't know any of this when I started, either. You can do it, but it is a major project.