XML News from Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Some students from several universities have undertaken to write an entire text book about XML in a Wiki. Is this the future of textbook publishing? Maybe, but only if it attracts enough users to correct its mistakes and rewrite its language. It could really use a thorough tech edit and a thorough copy edit. The lack of a single authorial voice, the frequent use of academic passive-speak, and the inconsistent and often inaccurate terminology are severe problems. Small technical mistakes are frequent, and there's at least one major flaw with the whole premise that underlies the book--excessive dependence on and faith in schemas. Probably some of this is precisely because the book was written by students learning XML rather than experts trying to teach XML. I attempted to correct some of the more obvious howlers in the text, but the Wiki was acting up and kept giving me the wrong section to edit.

I'm sure this was a valuable learning exercise for the students who wrote it. I'm tempted to assign a project like this to my own class one of these semesters. How valuable it is for others trying to learn from it, I don't know. I'm probably too close to judge myself. I do recall that readers often seemed to appreciate the tone of my earlier books where I too was learning as I wrote more. They had a real conversational, tutorial, we're all in this together approach that a lot of readers liked. My later books don't have as much of that. On the other hand, my early books also had a lot of small and large mistakes too, many of which still make me blanch when I read them today. This Wiki text is certainly superior to the first editions of the first books I wrote about XML; even if it's decidedly inferior to the more modern editions on store shelves now.

Of course, it's really not fair to compare the revised editions of my books to the first edition of the Wiki book. If the Wiki improves at the same rate as new editions of paper books do (and it might well improve faster) then it could be a real challenge to existing books like the XML Bible or XML in a Nutshell. If nothing else the project (which includes many other textbooks besides XML) shoudl help control the exorbitant price of college texts. It may also finally give some old dinosaurs like Halliday and Resnick, Apostol, or Jackson a run for their money. That would be a very good thing.

JAPISoft has released EditiX 5.0, a $99 payware cross-platform XML editor written in Java. Features include XPath location and syntax error detection, context sensitive popups based on DTD, W3C XML Schema Language, and RelaxNG schemas, XSLT and XSL-FO previews, XInclude, XML catalogs, an XSLT debugger, DocBook support, and multi-view preview. Version 5.0 enhances code assistance, adds a DTD documentation generator, and various other small features. EditiX is available for Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows.