Trying out Forrest for writing doc

I’m trying out a new approach (new for me, anyway) to writing doc. Over the years I’ve gotten so tired of messing around with Word. Assuming you get your styles to cooperate the format you wind up with is the format your doc will be in forever. Sure, you can go to PDF using Distiller, but what about other formats, like HTML? Ever seen the HTML Word produces? Yuck!

I’ve always wanted to write my doc in a simple XML vocabulary and then transform it into the desired format. I took a look at Docbook, and that looked promising, but it seemed like too much for what I needed. Plus, I didn’t have a structured authoring tool.

Thursday I came across Apache Forrest. I had seen Forrest before while messing around with Cocoon but had never taken the time to explore it. As it turns out, it was just what I was looking for. It is a simple XML-based publishing system. Under the covers it uses the power of Cocoon to turn a simple XML format into a basic web site, PDF, or whatever format you need. Forrest is simple to get up-and-running, but the format, as simple as it may be, is a bit too painful for unassisted plain-text editing. So I still needed a structured authoring tool.

A colleague reminded me that James Clark wrote a mode for Emacs called nxml that works with RelaxNG Schemas. He also wrote a tool called trang that converts RelaxNG schemas into RelaxNG compact syntax, which is something nxml can understand. Both are easy to install.

So now, thanks to Apache Forrest, Emacs’ nxml-mode, and trang, I’ve got a sweet little XML publishing setup.