SGML: Seybold Review of Alschuler, ABCD...SGML

SGML: Seybold Review of Alschuler, ABCD...SGML

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Review of Liora Alschuler, ABCD . . . SGML: A User's Guide to Structured Information.

"The well-rounded guide to SGML. ABCD . . . SGML: A User's Guide to Structured Information, by Liora Alschuler; Thomson Computer Press." The Seybold Report on Publishing Systems 25/9 (January 29, 1995) 42.

Well researched, well organized, and, most important, well written, Liora Alschuler's overview of SGML and its application to structuring documents is among the most engaging works yet published on this subject. The book not only covers the history of SGML but also lays out the issues in building SGML systems, explains a variety of approaches based on actual case studies, and provides a wealth of resources useful to both novice and experienced SGML practitioners. If you are looking for a book that puts SGML in perspective, this is it.

In contrast with other SGML primers, Alschuler focuses not on the standard but on information and how structure can add value to information. As a result, this book does an excellent job of explaining how SGML relates to everyday publishing problems -- a perspective often missing from texts that try to explain the inner workings of the language. It also is refreshingly free of hyperbole so common to SGML texts. While she is clearly a believer in SGML's potential, Alschuler is up-front and direct about the role SGML plays and is frank about its costs and limitations.

The book begins by relating the history of SGML and explaining what it is and how it works. There are erudite comparisons with other technologies -- WYSIWYG formatters, ODA, RTF, PDF and the Web -- that concisely present the current state of affairs in the industry.

That Alschuler does not have an ax to grind is evident, for example, in her treatment of WYSIWYG formatters. Where other SGML writers dismiss them, Alschuler acknowledges their important role in the industry today and their utility in specific situations. As she says herself, "Much of this book is about how to find the right balance between [SGML and non-SGML tools]."

In helping the reader make those decisions, Alschuler discusses tools, but rightly places much more emphasis on process. There are in-depth chapters on cost justification, document architectures, system design, data conversion and SGML-based production.

A writer, not an implementer, Alschuler's process outlines are drawn from an extensive study of the market, and her case studies are one of the best aspects of this book. They are stories rich in detail yet succinct enough to keep the reader engaged. They represent very different publishers with very different problems, yet Alschuler ties them together, showing in each how WYSIWYG, SGML and fielded data relate to the input, managing and output processes. Alschuler devotes more than 100 pages to case studies, offering in one place an impressively broad survey of practical implementations of SGML in use today.

The compendium of resources that closes out this book, including an overview of all of the public SGML initiatives, is a terrific companion to the text. As a bonus, the book includes a diskette containing SoftQuad's Panorama FREE SGML viewer and various samples and URLs.

Most SGML texts are aimed either at editorial staff or at technical staff. Alschuler masterfully satisfies both audiences in a technical exposition that is remarkably engaging to read.

Supplied to Robin Cover by Seybold via email, Date: 7 Feb 96 9:16:37 EDT, Message-Id: <>